Southern California commuter train, truck collide, 50 hurt
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.
'A DANGEROUS CROSSING'
“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.