OXNARD (CBSLA.com) — More than two dozen people were injured when a Metrolink train derailed Tuesday morning after colliding with a tractor trailer on the tracks in Ventura County, officials said.
The VC Line 102 train, which was headed eastbound from Ventura to Los Angeles, hit a produce truck around 5:45 a.m. near 5th Street and Rice Avenue in Oxnard, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
“For some reason there was a tractor trailer on the tracks there at Rice Avenue and Train 102 collided with it,” said Scott Johnson of Metrolink.
“The conductor of the train noticed the car early and the flashing lights and he was able to establish the emergency protocol . . . so it sounds like they anticipated the crash a far distance out,” added Batt. Chief Sergio Martinez.
The truck caught fire and five train cars derailed.
“The driver of the vehicle fled the scene. We don’t know why, but he was found a little while later, a few miles down the road, unharmed, and he is in police custody,” Martinez said.
Police later identified the driver as Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez, 54, from Yuma, Arizona. Ramirez was said to be cooperative with authorities. He was arrested on a felony hit-and-run charge, according to police.
Ramirez was driving a 2005 F-450 truck, which was towing a trailer behind it, carrying welding equipment.
Ramirez was medically cleared, according to officials at a press conference at the scene, and was taken into custody by the Oxnard Police department upon his release from the hospital.
A total of 28 people were transported to six area hospitals including Ventura County Medical Center and St. John’s. Four of those patients, including two women, were in critical condition and 23 others did not require medical transport.
“The extent of the injuries ranged from significant head trauma and extremity trauma to neck and back injuries and generally normal trauma you would think from being thrown around,” said Steve Carroll of Ventura County Medical Services.
The train’s conductor was the most severely wounded with critical chest injuries and was moved to an ICU unit where he was sedated.
Two patients were released from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon.
Joel Bingham was riding in the No. 2 car of the 102 train at the time of the collision, and reported seeing a fireball prior to the derailment.
“At one point, the wall became the floor, and the floor became the wall, so you’re standing on the windows,” Bingham described. “One end of the car was on the track, and one end was on the street.”
Ventura County Medical Center’s Dr. Brian Wong recounts a rider’s description of the incident.
“I did have an opportunity to interview a gentleman who was one of the victims on one of the trains,” Dr. Wong said. “He described that he was in one of the first trains… he described an incident where suddenly he was working on his laptop, getting usual work done, and feeling a sudden jerking movement literally so quick that he wasn’t even able to secure himself or grab on to anything, and his body was thrown against what he described as probably the wall or the sidewall of the train itself.”
Medical officials say it will take 24 hours to be able to tell whether the train conductor will survive his injuries.
“All southbound traffic is shut down on Rice Ave at Sturgis Road. All northbound traffic on Rice Avenue is shut down at Channel Islands Boulevard,” Oxnard police said.
Metrolink reports that all Ventura County trains will experience extensive delays due to the accident. Buses will be used to transport passengers between the Oxnard and Moorpark train stations.
Metrolink hopes to have the tracks open and fully operational by Wednesday morning. For Metrolink service updates, follow their Twitter account here or call 1(800) 3714-5465. Metrolink says a plan is in place to boost bus service in the area to limit the impact of the derailment on commuters.
The NTSB had a team of seven investigators looking into the crash on Tuesday night. The team planned to look at surveillance video, interview passengers and speak with Ramirez.
“Our ultimate goal is not only to find out what happened, but we want to find out why it happened,” NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt said. “That’s really what we’re in the business of doing, is finding out what happened so that we can keep things like this from happening again.”
Ramirez’ attorney, Ron Bamieh, released a statement on Ramirez’ behalf on Tuesday night.
“It is clear this was an accident, the arrest of Mr. Ramirez is the unfortunate result of law enforcement attempting to cast blame on a man who was caught in a tragic situation with no way to stop the oncoming tragedy.”