Southern California commuter train, truck collide, 50 hurt

UPDATED 2:11pm:

A Los Angeles-bound commuter train slammed into a produce truck apparently stuck on the tracks in a Southern California city during the morning rush hour on Tuesday, injuring 50 people in a fiery crash, several of them critically, authorities said.

The truck driver, who was not hurt, left the scene of the crash in Oxnard on foot and was found, disoriented, one or two miles away, Assistant Police Chief Jason Benitez said.

Benitez said the 54-year-old driver from Arizona was not arrested but authorities were trying to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing.

The collision just before 6 a.m. PST (1400 GMT) in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, overturned three double-decker Metrolink rail cars. Two others derailed but remained upright.

The force of the impact smashed the truck apart and burned-out chunks and twisted wreckage still smoldered hours later.

Authorities said the train, which had been traveling at 79 miles per hour, had used an emergency braking system.

Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said the rail cars had safety features that helped absorb the energy of the impact.

“I think we can safely say that the technology worked. It definitely minimized the impact. It would have been a very serious collision, it would have been much worse without it,” Lustgarten said.

The crash came three weeks after a Metro-North commuter train struck a car at a railroad crossing just north of New York City and derailed in a fiery accident that killed six people in the area’s worst rail crash in decades.

Ventura County Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll said 50 people were hurt in Tuesday's crash, 28 of them transported to local hospitals. Authorities had earlier said 51 were injured.

National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt told reporters investigators would examine the train's recorders and seek to determine if crossing arms and bells were functioning properly.


“We are concerned with grade crossing accidents. We intend to use this accident and others to learn from it so that we can keep it from happening again,” Sumwalt said.

The collision took place where the Metrolink tracks cross busy Rice Avenue in Oxnard, a street used by a steady stream of big rigs and farm trucks and lined with warehouses and farmland.

“It is a very dangerous crossing,” said Rafael Lemus, who works down the street from the site of the crash. “The lights come on too late before the trains come. It is not safe.”

Twenty-eight people, some with significant head, neck and back traumas or broken bones, were taken to six hospitals, Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll told reporters. Another 22 were treated at the scene, he said.

A spokeswoman for Ventura County Medical Center said the hospital had received nine crash victims of whom three were listed in critical condition. Hospital spokesman Bryan Wong said the train's driver was among those critically injured.

Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center received six patients with minor injuries such as back, leg or shoulder pain, said spokeswoman Kris Carraway.

St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital in nearby Camarillo was treating two patients for minor injuries, a spokeswoman said.

The incident caused significant delays to Metrolink lines in Ventura County, forcing commuters onto buses. Oxnard is an affluent coastal city of some 200,000 about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

In 2008, a crowded Metrolink commuter train plowed into a Union Pacific locomotive in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people and injuring 135 in an accident officials blamed on the commuter train engineer’s failure to stop at a red light.

In 2005 a Metrolink train struck a sport utility vehicle parked on the tracks in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, killing 11 people and injuring 180.


Our thoughts go to the families of the men and women who were killed in the Metrolink Train 111 crash in Chatsworth on Friday, Sept. 12.

We also send our prayers to the families of the men, women and children who were killed when a passenger jet, en route from Moscow to Perm in central Russia, crashed Sunday, Sept. 14, during its descent. All 88 passengers, including members of the local Jewish community, were killed: Yevgeny and Lyudmila Sankin, 50 and 53; Anna Spivak and Yakov Spivak, both 32; Sergei Yudin and Valeriya Yudin, 41 and 3, and Ifraim Nakhumov and Golda Nakhumova, 36 and 24, with their children, Ilya Nakhumov, 7, and Eva Nakhumov, 5.

Rea Altman died Aug. 12 at the age of 102. She is survived by her daughter, Phyllis Gelb. Sholom Chapels

Bernardo Azernitzky died Sept. 10 at 82. He is survived by his son, Richard. Sholom Chapels

Sylvia Braun died Aug. 24 at 83. She is survived by her son, Jay; and grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Victor Clafin died Sept. 10 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Paulette; son, Jacques; and granddaughters, Alison August and Ashley. Mount Sinai

Ruth Epstein died Sept. 4 at 95. She is survived by her son, Earl (Helen); grandson, Eric; and granddaughter, Danielle Gebhardt. Hillside

Elias Eshagian died Aug. 8 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Parvin; sons, George, Gilber, Joubin and Roger; 14 grandchildren; brothers, Ezatollah, Mehdi, Benjamin and Maurice; and sisters, Shokat Mishkanian and Farideh Bamshad. Chevra Kadisha

Marvin Freeman died Sept. 7 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Natasha; daughters, Linda Rauch, Traci (Roy) Salter and Karen (Jeffrey) Shapiro; and seven grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Elizabeth Grossinger died Aug. 25 at 86. She is survived by her daughter, Susan (Zev) Bogan. Sholom Chapels

Semo Filbert died Aug. 18 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Billie (Jack); and two grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Edwin Otto Guthman died Aug. 31 at 89. He is survived by his sons, Gary, Les and Edwin; and daughter, Diane Jo Cincino. Hillside

Evelyn Halpern died Sept. 8 at 90. She is survived by her children, Robert (Anneta Posner) and Deena (Jerry Epstein); eight grandchildren; nephew; and nieces. Groman

Eli Barry Hirsh died Sept. 4 at 41. He is survived by his wife, Irit; mother, Toni; and friends, Adina and Moshe Melnick. Hillside

Celia Lillian Kahlenberg died Aug. 27 at 91. She is survived by her sons, Edward (Deana), Robert (Janice) and Sherwood (Rita); daughter, Ruth (Jacob) Bloom; and sister, Rose Lewis. Hillside

Mildred Golick Kauffman died Aug. 27 at 94. She is survived by her son, Ken Golick; and daughter, Gale Gould. Hillside

George Klasser died Aug. 28 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Lorraine; son, Kenneth; daughter, Sandra (Steven) Greenough, and brothers, Alan and Edwin. Hillside

Florence Kaminsky died Sept. 3 at 84. She is survived by her daughters, Karen (Nate) Hoffman and Linda (Michael) Johnson; and brother, Herbert Kapsky. Hillside

Hugo Kren died Sept. 6 at 94. He is survived by his wife, Rosa; daughter, Jeanette (Gary) Lachman; and granddaughters, Heather and Stephnie Lachman. Mount Sinai

Shirley Lane died Sept. 8 at 84. She is survived by her son, Rod; daughters, Laura and Barbara; and three grandchildren. Groman

David Langer died Aug. 30 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Florence; daughter, Andrea; son, Barry; daughter-in-law, Janet; and grandchildren, Robert and Bethany. Hillside

Mira Langer died Sept. 4 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Nathan; sons, Dennis (Susan), David (Melissa) and Bruce (Stefani); seven grandchildren; and sister, Rachel Jaskowitz. Malinow and Silverman

Stuart Levin died Aug. 29 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Jane; sons, Peter (Ruth) and Michael (Lisa); and brother, Maurice LeCove. Hillside

Marion Norma Levinson died Sept. 2 at 79. She is survived by her husband, Bill; and daughters Dharma Khalsa and Nancy Retinoff. Hillside

Robert “Bobby” Mallon died Sept. 10, at the age of 89. He is survived by his daughter, Judith Rojas. Mount Sinai

Joanne Marcus died Aug. 26 at 58. She is survived by her husband, Robert; daughters, Ariane and Alexander; and son, Harry. Hillside

Marvin Marmelstein died Sept. 4 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Roberta; daughter, Wendy Rose; grandson, Bryan Raber; and his partner Jordan Katnik. Hillside

Al Mishkin died Sept. 7 at 95. He is survived by his son, Robert; and daughter, Joyce Saltz. Hillside

Elizabeth Anne Morgan died Sept. 2 at 40. She is survived by her husband, Jack; daughter, Tabitha; and father, Jack Morgan. Hillside

Aaron Peck died Sept. 13 at 69. He is survived by his wife, Linda; son, Anthony (Gayle); daughters, Dena (Shane) Gertsch and Jessica; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Gerald Peck died Sept. 1 at 82. He survived by his wife, Elaine; sons, Bennett and Lawrence; brothers, Robert (Ann) and Burton (Rona); sister, Beverly (Leo); nieces; and nephews. Mount Sinai

Matilda Frances Penny died Sept. 2 at 84. She is survived by her son, Theodore; daughters, Jeanne and Helen; sister, Joyce; and seven grandchildren. Groman

Fanny Pomeranc died Sept. 11 at 86. She is survived by her son, Dennis. Mount Sinai

Bernard Reder died Sept. 6 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Serena; sons, Martin (Susan), Glen (Orly) and Paul (Sherri); daughter, Marina (Spencer) Misraje; seven grandchildren; sister, Gloria (Rudy) Diamond; and half-sister, Kathy (Ed) Stacy. Mount Sinai

Julio Roberts died Aug. 6 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Paula (Larry); and three grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Shirley Rocklin died Sept. 3 at age 98. She is survived by her sons, Ted and Milton; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Groman

Michael Alan Rosenaur died Aug. 30 at 30. He is survived by his father, Leonard (Martine) Rosenaur; mother Hope (Richard) Shaw; sisters, Lara (Kyle) Polvy and Chanel Rosenaur; aunt, Sybil Bergman, and cousins, Jayand Lance Bergman. Hillside

David Schwartz died Sept. 2 at 86. He is survived by his daughter, Lisa Leffton; and son, Howard. Malinow and Silverman

Ruth Simon died Aug. 29 at 86. She is survived by her sons, Andy, Peter, Michael and Howard. Hillside

David Slobin died on Aug. 9 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Evelene; children, Myron (Mary Ann), Ellen (Gershon) and Barry (Carol); and 14 grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Adolf Joseph Snyder died Sept. 9 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Marian; son, Larry (Bobbie); daughter, Michelle (Henry) Wisch; and grandchildren, David and Robin. Mount Sinai

Esther Terry died Aug. 31 at 89. She is survived by her daughters, Elaine Dreyfuss, Shane Cronenweth and Lori Erlendsson; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Joseph Weiner died Aug. 1 at 92. He is survived by his son, Jerry (Patti); daughter, Miriam (Steve) Kosberg; seven grandchidlren; and 10 great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Sarah Weinstein died Sept. 7 at 95. She is survived by her daughters, Lois (Rabbi Moshe) Rothblum and Marilyn (Alex) Ehrlich; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Thelma Yaffe died Sept. 11 at 90. She is survived by her daughters, Lois Bloch, Arlene (Marvin) Garfield, Roberta (Barry) Zwick and Martha (David) Uslaner; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Survivor, rabbi recall horror of Metrolink train crash

Richard Slavett normally takes the 4:36 p.m. Metrolink train from Glendale to his home in Thousand Oaks, but last Friday his daughter-in-law was flying in from the East Coast and he decided to go home early.

Slavett, 69, owner of the Glendale Tire Co. of Glendale, caught the 3:45 p.m. train instead, took an aisle seat at the rear of the train, and fell fast asleep.

The next thing he knew he was lying face down at the front of the compartment following a horrific crash between his Metrolink train and a freight train, which killed 26 people and injured 138.

Next to him were two bodies, one bleeding profusely. Slavett painfully crawled to retrieve his briefcase, and a lunchbox holding the day’s cash receipts.

“It was like a scene from a disaster movie,” he said.

Agonizingly, Slavett crawled to the exit, until two men carried him to a nearby boulder. An hour later he was taken to the triage area and there LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and County Sheriff Lee Baca, who both know Slavett, came over to comfort him.

Three hours later he was transferred to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Woodland Hills. Miraculously, he had no broken bones, but suffered an excruciatingly painful torn groin.

Despite the pain, Slavett managed to attend a dinner Monday evening, marking his installation as lieutenant governor of the California Kiwanis.

Now slowly recovering, the father of three and grandfather of six said, in a voice chocked with emotion, “I got to get well fast so I can go back to singing in the choir at Or Ami [in Calabasas].”

Rabbi Leonard Muroff was driving to his home in Agoura Hills after conducting services at Temple Ner Tamid in Downey, when he heard that families of those thought to have been on the train were told to assemble at Chatsworth High School and wait for news.

As a full-time chaplain with Vitas Innovative Hospice Care, he immediately changed course and headed for the high school.

The place was jammed with families and friends, some standing in stunned silence, others close to hysteria, alongside aid workers from the fire department, sheriff’s office, Red Cross, and the mayor’s crisis team, headed by Jeff Zimmerman.

Working alongside a Protestant and Buddhist chaplain, Muroff worked to pinpoint the locations of the injured, scattered throughout some 20 hospitals, from Simi Valley to the USC-County Hospital.

Muroff encountered some Jewish families, although the faith of the affected families made no difference to the three chaplains.

Around midnight, officials of the Coroner’s office received a list of those who had died in the crash and began to notify the waiting relatives.

What do you say to the bereaved in such a moment, Muroff was asked.

“There are no magic words,” he answered, “no easy phrases like ‘he has gone to a better place’ or ‘God will embrace her’.”

“All you can do is let them cry it out, say that you are with them, that they are not alone.”

Muroff pulled a 17-hour shift, interrupted only by morning prayers at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. He returned to the high school bearing 13 bagles with cream cheese, supplied by the temple.

Muroff, 48, is a native of Toronto and has been a hospice chaplain for two years, previously with the Jewish Homes for the Aging.

There have been many emotional and agonizing moments during that time, he said, but nothing had been as intensive as the 17 hours at Chatsworth High.

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