OXNARD (CBSLA.com) — Metrolink officials had trains fully operational late Wednesday afternoon following a derailment that injured more than two dozen people in Ventura County.
The train derailed around 5:45 a.m. Tuesday after it collided with a produce truck left on the tracks near 5th Street and Rice Avenue in Oxnard.
The driver of the truck, 54-year-old Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez of Yuma, Arizona, was arrested for a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident, according to Oxnard police. He was set to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and was being held on $150,000 bail.
The Arizona resident has several prior traffic violations, including a 1998 DUI conviction, attorney Ron Bamieh said.
Ramirez is accused driving onto the tracks for several yards before abandoning his 2005 F-450 truck, which was hauling a trailer with welding equipment, before it was struck by the Metrolink train.
“The truck was pushed approximately 300 feet,” said Roger Sumwait of the NTSB.
Ramirez’s attorney said his client did all he could to extricate the truck prior to the crash.
“At first he’s running around, trying to get help, calls his employer. Them he tries to get a hold of police, he doesn’t speak English very well, he contacted one civilian out there. We have an idea of who that is,” said Bamieh.
The attorney also says that Ramirez did what he could to remedy the situation as soon as it became apparent.
“He tried to physically move the truck,” Bamieh said. “He tried to first move forward to get the truck off the tracks. When he couldn’t do that, he tried to physically move the truck. Then he sees the train coming.”
In addition to the 1998 DUI conviction, Ramirez also had a traffic infraction in 2004, and was cited for failing to obey a traffic-control device in 2007, according to Arizona records.
28 people were injured, four critically, when the train derailed.
“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 continues to fight for his life after his heart stopped on two separate occasions on Wednesday.
“His heart actually stopped,” one doctor stated. “He had a cardiac arrest. Thankfully he was already in the ICU, and resuscitation efforts were taken. His heart came back, and yet again, stopped.”
Ramirez is accused of fleeing the scene and was later found by police about a mile from the accident, unharmed and disorientated.
Metrolink shut down the tracks from Oxnard to Moorpark for the cleanup and a NTSB probe.
Federal investigators gathered video from the train and its data recorders which track speed, braking and throttle position. They will also examine information gathered from the crossing signals in an attempt to recreate the accident.
Investigation has turned up that the truck had traveled some 80 feet down the railroad tracks from the crossing, according to NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt.
“We’re very concerned about this,” said Sumwait. “We don’t go to every grade crossing accident, but we did think this one was a little unusual since the truck had apparently traveled down a railroad track.”
Metrolink had regular train service restored by late Wednesday afternoon. In the meantime, Metrolink was offering bus shuttles for customers from the East Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo stations to Moorpark where passengers can board trains to Union Station. For updated commuter information, visit Metrolink online.
The rail company is crediting its new train car technology for saving lives in the accident. The technology features redesigned passenger seats and energy absorbing zones at each ends of the cars.