Glendale Train Crash

A man accused of killing 11 people by parking his truck in a train's path intended to get his estranged wife's attention by causing "a horrific tragedy," not to kill himself as originally thought, police said.

Authorities also said Juan Manuel Alvarez told them he had poured gasoline on the SUV before the Metrolink struck it Jan. 26 as it carried commuters to downtown Los Angeles.

Two commuter trains smashed into each other early Wednesday, killing 10 people and injuring more than 180 when a suicidal man drove an SUV onto tracks, then changed his mind but was unable to get the vehicle off the rails before one Metrolink train struck it and derailed into the other, authorities said.

The collision hurtled double-deck rail cars onto their sides and knocked over a locomotive parked on a siding. Unharmed passengers and employees at an adjacent store rushed to the wreckage, some of it ablaze, and pulled out the injured as firefighters, ambulances and emergency helicopters converged on the scene.

The root cause of the accident was attributed to the driver of the automobile, Juan Manuel Alvarez of Compton, California, who deliberately drove and left his vehicle onto the tracks while allegedly attempting to commit suicide. Having slashed his wrists and stabbed himself repeatedly in the chest, he parked his car on the tracks to finish the attempt. However, Alvarez changed his mind and attempted to leave the railroad tracks. Because he was unable to dislodge his vehicle from the rain-soaked gravel and slick rails, he abandoned the vehicle moments before the crowded southbound train approached. (There is some speculation that Alvarez may have inflicted the wounds on himself after the crash, based on some early reports by witnesses). Both this causation and the end result have many similarities to that of the Ufton Nervet rail crash in the United Kingdom, which occurred only three months previously, although in that case the driver of the car stayed in the vehicle and was killed.

Early rumors of the incident being a terrorist attack were dismissed, as no connections to any terrorist organization existed with the suspect. Likewise, links to Chicano street gangs were also dismissed.

Police on the scene found Alvarez wandering the streets repeating "I'm sorry"; they remanded him into custody after determining that it was his vehicle parked on the tracks. Facing 11 counts of murder, he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on February 15, 2005.

On August 26, 2005, prosecutors officially announced that they would seek the death penalty against Alvarez, and were prepared to use a rarely cited "train wrecking" statute in California law, even though trains rarely derail when they hit a car. On June 26, 2008, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found Alvarez guilty of 11 counts of first degree murder with special circumstances. Alvarez was sentenced to eleven consecutive life prison terms on August 20, 2008.