OXNARD, Cal. — A fiery high-speed crash between a Los Angeles-bound commuter train and a tractor trailer laden with welding supplies injured 50 people, some of them critically, early Tuesday morning.
The Oxnard Police Department first reported that the driver of the tractor trailer, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, may have taken a wrong turn in the pre-dawn darkness, causing his truck to become stuck on the tracks. Shortly afterward, a Metrolink train collided with the truck as it traveled south at 79 miles per hour.
On Wednesday, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator said that Mr. Sanchez-Ramirez’s vehicle was not stuck and that he had been driving on the tracks when the crash occurred.
The impact of the commuter train crash derailed five double-decker train cars, overturning three of them, and demolished the truck. Among the most seriously injured was the train’s operator, who was rushed to Ventura County Medical Center with extensive chest injuries affecting his heart and lungs. He remains in the hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition. Three other train occupants were in critical condition.
Mr. Sanchez-Ramirez, who was physically unharmed, was found walking more than a mile and a half away from the crash site. Authorities said he was talking on his cell phone and appeared to be in “some sort of distress.” He was taken into custody and charged with a hit-and-run felony for leaving the scene. He has undergone tests for drugs and alcohol, but the results have not yet been made public.
Reports surfaced Wednesday that the Mr. Sanchez-Ramirez has been cited for multiple driving violations in his home state of Arizona. In 1998, he was convicted of driving under the influence.
NTSB investigator Robert Sumwalt said the agency would analyze the black box data for clues that could throw light on the crash. He also said the NTSB is trying to determine whether the crossing arms were functioning properly.
The crash occurred on Rice Avenue in an industrial part of Oxnard on a thoroughfare heavily used by tractor trailers and farming trucks. One person who works near the crash site told Reuters that the crossing is in itself “very dangerous.”
“The lights come on too late before the trains come. It is not safe,” he told Reuters.
The crash comes three weeks after a Metro-North commuter train struck an SUV on the tracks outside of New York City, killing six people and injuring several others.
The last serious crash of a Metrolink commuter train occurred in 2008, when a crowded train collided with a Union Pacific locomotive in Chatsworth, Calif., killing 25 people and injuring 135. Investigators determined that the Metrolink train engineer failed to stop at a red light.
In 2005, a Metrolink train collided with an SUV that was stopped on the tracks in Glendale, Calif., near Los Angeles. That crash killed 11 people and injured 180.