Train crash trucker 'ran for life'
A driver who abandoned his pick-up truck on a level crossing before a fiery crash made repeated attempts to move the vehicle before running for his life as a commuter train approached, his lawyer has said.
Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez accidentally drove on to the tracks and made the situation worse by continuing forward in an attempt to generate enough speed to get his wide pick-up over the rails, Ron Bamieh said. When that effort failed, he tried to push the truck, then fled before the impact.
"He hits his high beams trying to do something. He's screaming. He realises, 'I can't do anything', and then he tries to run so he doesn't get killed," Mr Bamieh said. "He saw the impact, yes, it was a huge explosion."
The lawyer's account offered a different perspective on what investigators have said about the crash that injured 30 people, four critically, when the Los Angeles-bound Metrolink train derailed in Oxnard, California, before dawn on Tuesday.
Police said Mr Ramirez, 54, was trying to turn right at a junction just beyond the crossing, but moved too soon, drove on to the tracks before the crossing arms came down and became stuck.
Other drivers have done the same thing, but were able to get their vehicles off the tracks. In this case, however, the trailer Mr Ramirez was towing may have made that more difficult, assistant Oxnard police chief Jason Benites said.
The Oxnard crossing has been the site of many crashes.
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said the truck was not stuck in the way vehicles sometimes get trapped between crossing safety arms. He said investigators had not ruled out that the vehicle was stuck and would find out why it travelled 80ft down the tracks and remained there with its parking brake engaged.
"I don't think anybody would put a car or truck on railroad tracks and not try to get it off if there's an approaching train," Mr Sumwalt said.
Mr Bamieh said Mr Ramirez's Ford F-450 truck straddled the tracks. While he was able to drive forward, the trailer prevented him from backing up, and he could not get his wheels to clear the rails.
Police said Mr Ramirez did not call emergency services and made no immediate effort to call for help. But Mr Bamieh said Mr Ramirez, who does not speak English well, tried to get help from a passer-by, called his employer and eventually reached his son to help him speak to police.
Mr Sumwalt said the train's video cameras that captured the crash and data recorders that tracked its speed were being analysed to help determine what happened. Mr Ramirez's truck, which was badly burned, could also yield evidence.
Police said Mr Ramirez was found 45 minutes after the crash 1.5 miles away, though Mr Bamieh said he was only half a mile away and had phone records that showed he spoke to officers much sooner. He was arrested on suspicion of leaving the scene of an accident with injuries and is expected to appear in court.
Police would not discuss drug and alcohol test results, but Mr Bamieh said he was told there was no sign Mr Ramirez was impaired.
Mr Ramirez, of Yuma, Arizona, pleaded guilty to drunken driving in Arizona in 1998 and was cited for failure to obey a traffic control in 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The collision happened at about 5.45 am, a few minutes after the train left Oxnard station. The engineer saw the abandoned vehicle and hit the brakes, but there was not enough time to stop, Oxnard fire battalion chief Sergio Martinez said.