metsfan 2 Posted September 13, 2008 Share #1 Posted September 13, 2008 At least 10 reported dead as Metrolink cars crash into freight train By David Pierson, Richard Winton and Scott Gold Los Angeles Times Staff Writers September 12, 2008 Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times Rescuers work to pull people from mangled wreckage in Chatsworth. A Metrolink train and a Union Pacific freight train collided in Chatsworth this afternoon, killing at least 10 people and injuring at least 23 others. Dozens of people were believed to be trapped in the wreckage despite the efforts of more than 100 firefighters, police officers and paramedics. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, asked for his reaction upon arriving at the scene, described it as "heartbroken. To see this number of injuries -- the devasation, the carnage." "The latest figure we have is that there are 10 to 15 fatalities," he said. Authorities said they expect the death toll to rise as firefighters reach the part of the train that suffered the greatest impact. Several cars derailed and the two trains collided with such force that the lead passenger car was wrapped around the Metrolink locomotive. Firefighters initially battled a ferocious blaze in part of the wreckage. As many as 400 people might have been on the train, officials said. Ten of the injuries were considered critical, sheriff's officials said. One of the injured passengers, Willie Castro, 67, of Simi Valley, said he was in the last Metrolink car at the time of the crash. Castro, who was sitting on a green plastic chair given to him by a resident of a nearby home, said he thought his leg was broken. Castro said he was sitting by a window of the Metrolink car, talking to passengers about work and about the coming weekend when the crash occurred. "I was riding, sitting down, minding my own business, when all of a sudden -- boom, people go flying all over the place," he said. "Everyone started screaming. You could hear that everyone was in pain." The passenger train was Metrolink 111, which left Union Station in Los Angeles at 3:35 p.m. and was headed to Oxnard. The wreck occurred on a steep, curving track near Stoney Point Park, just east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and about a quarter-mile south of the 118 Freeway. The injured were being routed to several hospitals. Northridge Hospital Medical Center and Providence Holy Cross Medical Center officials said some of the injured were headed there. In the initial response, firefighters were making their way through a derailed passenger train looking for victims. Others swarmed on top of passenger cars, using their hands, hand tools and the power tools to pry open the cars. Some could be seen smashing windows in an effort to reach those trapped in the wreckage. Many passengers could be seen being carried out of the overturned cars on stretchers and backboards. Several triage and staging areas have been established. One of them was the basketball court at Chatsworth Hills Academy, where firefighters tended to more than a dozen commuters with obvious injuries. On the grassy lawn of the campus, more than a dozen injured people waited for help with the wreckage of the train a short distance away. One man, his shirt stripped away, had an oxygen mask held to his face. Another man in a business suit had his jacket torn open. One man sat in a lawn chair, his white T-shirt with drenched in blood. His hands were covered with blood and his head was wrapped in gauze. John Perdigao, 43, said he was headed from Union Station to his home in Moorpark. He said the crash took place about two minutes after the train pulled out of Chatsworth. "All of a sudden, everything just went forward and people started screaming," said Perdigao, an assistant controller at the Los Angeles Times. "After that I basically started helping to get people out." Phil Thiele, 55 of Simi Valley boarded the train at the Van Nuys station, choosing a seat toward the back of the car directly behind the engine pulling the three-car train. He shared a bench on the left side with four or five other men. "I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke," Thiele said. It was clear that "some people were mangled pretty bad." Across from him a man was pinned between some seats. "All of a sudden, everything just went forward and people started screaming," said Perdigao, an assistant controller at the Los Angeles Times. "After that I basically started helping to get people out." Phil Thiele, 55 of Simi Valley boarded the train at the Van Nuys station, choosing a seat toward the back of the car directly behind the engine pulling the three-car train. He shared a bench on the left side with four or five other men. "I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke," Thiele said. It was clear that "some people were mangled pretty bad." Across from him a man was pinned between some seats. "He was pleading with me to help him," Thiele said. "I tried my damnedest to get him out but I just couldn't." As he struggled to pull the man to safety, others started screaming that the locomotive was going to catch fire. Thiele, who had first aid training at work earlier this week, told the man: "Don't worry, I'll stay with you as long as I can." A woman with what appeared to be a serious head injury was trying to crawl out of the car. Thiele urged her to lie down and stay still, placing her purse under her head as a pillow. Firefighters boarding the train told Thiele to get out. "I told them I'm not leaving until I know you've got these people," he said, explaining that he was afraid firefighters wouldn't be able to find victims in the crushed car without his help. About a half-mile from the crash, dozens of ambulances lined Rinaldi Street, awaiting injured passengers. A steady stream of emergency personnel and senior officials rushed up the driveway of one house, through a carriage gate and onto the crash site. Medevac helicopters lifted off and landed at the site and a single fire hose snaked up the driveway. As he departed the site, CHP Assistant Chief Craig Klein tore latex gloves off his hands and said "there is obviously a lot of wreckage and carnage in there." The 118 Freeway remained open, but the Desoto Avenue and the Topanga Canyon Boulevard ramps were closed. At Union Station, Metrolink officials were telling passengers that all trains scheduled to use the track where the wreck occurred would stop at Van Nuys. From there, passengers would be bused to their destinations. Amtrak Surfliner trains, which run from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, are delayed in both directions. Tyrell said it remains unclear what caused the collision. "It is a very, very sad situation. We honestly don't know what happened. Obviously two trains are not supposed to be at the same place at the same time," she said. Union Pacific spokeswoman Zoe Richmond confirmed that the freight was a Union Pacific train. She said there were two people on board -- the engineer and the conductor -- but she said shortly before 5:30 p.m. that their conditions were not available. She said she did not know how many cars were part of the train. At the Metrolink station in Simi valley, the platform was empty except for a few people trying to get information about the trash, in contrast to the parking lot, which was still filled with commuter cars. A small shuttle bus was carrying away some of the stranded passengers. Mike Custodio, 37, an assistant city attorney, said he was supposed to go on the ill-fated train at 3:35 p.m. with a colleague, but told her to go ahead without him when he got called into a meeting. Custodio's colleague, Neil Blumenkopf, had given him a lift to the station, where the two were pacing with furled brows, trying to find out what happened to Judy, the colleague that got on the train. Then Custodio's cellphone rang. "Broken shoulder? Gash in her head? But she's OK?" he said into the phone, looking visibly relieved. Custodio said when he first began commuting on the Metrolink, Judy had told him about what she thought was the safest section of the train -- she would always ride in the second car, on the lower level, with no table tray, ever since the 2005 train crash in Glendale that killed 11 people. "Hopefully they will make improvements," Custodio said. "But that's what they said last time." Numerous people might have been spared because they had gotten off the Metrolink train at the Northridge-Chatsworth station, Castro said. He said two men helped him out of the train; his wife was on her way to pick him up. Castro said he was also riding the Metrolink train that crashed near the Glendale-Los Angeles boundary in January 2005, the deadliest accident in the history of Metrolink, the Los Angeles area's commuter railroad. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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