The 2005 Glendale train crash is the second-deadliest incident in the history of Metrolink, the commuter railroad in the Los Angeles, California area. It was overtaken as the deadliest by the 2008 Chatsworth train collision.
On January 26, 2005, at 6:03 a.m. PST, southbound Metrolink commuter train #100 collided with a sport utility vehicle that had been abandoned on the tracks immediately south of the Chevy Chase Drive grade crossing and near a Costco retail store on the Glendale-Los Angeles boundary, in an industrial area north of downtown Los Angeles. The train jackknifed and struck trains on either side of it—one a stationary Union Pacific freight train, and the other a northbound Metrolink train (#901) traveling in the opposite direction. The chain-reaction collisions resulted in the deaths of 11 people. Among the first responders to the accident were employees of the Costco store, adjacent to the accident site, who placed calls to 9-1-1 and climbed the perimeter fence to aid the victims.
Juan Manuel Álvarez, who had left his Jeep Cherokee Sport vehicle parked on the tracks, was arrested and charged with 11 counts of murder with "special circumstances." Authorities and Álvarez's legal defense claimed Álvarez was planning to commit suicide, but changed his mind at the last minute. Álvarez was convicted in June 2008 of the eleven counts plus one count of arson, and though prosecutors sought a death sentence, was instead sentenced in August 2008 to 11 consecutive life sentences in prison with no possibility of parole.
In the early morning rush hour period, northbound train #901 (leaving Los Angeles) normally carries between 30 and 50 passengers; the southbound #100 train (approaching Los Angeles) normally carries between 200 and 250 people.
The freight train involved in the accident was "tied down" (parked) on an auxiliary track known as "The Slide," running parallel along the west side of the main tracks, waiting its turn to deliver track ballast to repair tracks on the former Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Line which had been washed out by major January 2005 rainstorms.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team investigated the crash. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen's (BLET) Safety Task Force assisted the NTSB. The Glendale Police Department led the criminal investigation, assisted by the Union Pacific Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and the criminal case was tried in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The southbound Metrolink train (#100) struck the parked Jeep that had been driven by Álvarez onto the tracks at the Chevy Chase Drive grade crossing just west of San Fernando Road (map), pushing the Jeep southward along the track towards the Los Feliz Boulevard undercrossing until automotive parts struck a track switch and became lodged under the leading car of the Metrolink train, raising it up and causing the train to derail. Cars from the derailed train jackknifed, hitting both the locomotive of the stationary freight train and sideswiping the rear of the passing northbound #901 Metrolink passenger train. This caused the rear cars of the northbound train to derail, and at least one car rolled over onto its side. A fire, involving one or more passenger cars, was caused by spilled diesel fuel.
The root cause of the accident was attributed to the driver of the automobile, Juan Manuel Álvarez 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, Álvarez 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. However, there has been some speculation that Álvarez 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.
The train wreck caused intense attention to the train configuration. Many commuter trains are pushed from the back by the locomotive, including Metrolink trains returning to Los Angeles Union Station. In a "rear-pushed configuration," the first car is a special passenger car with controls for an engineer at the end (sometimes referred to as the "cab car"). This "rear-pushed configuration" eliminates the need for elaborate turnaround maneuvers and facilities to reverse a train's direction. There was severe criticism that the configuration made the accident worse: many people claimed that if the heavier engine were ahead of the passenger cars southbound train #100 would not have jackknifed, causing the second train to derail.
Immediately following the accident, Metrolink temporarily roped off the first cars in all of their trains; passengers were seated starting in the second car. Metrolink gradually modified this policy. As of 2007, the line permits passengers to sit in a portion of the first car when in "rear-pushed mode." Seating is still not permitted in the roped-off, forward-most section of the first cars (just behind the engineer's cab).
The day following the incident, police intervened in a similar "copycat" incident in Irvine, California where a suicidal man parked his car on Metrolink tracks. The man drove away from the tracks when police arrived and was later arrested.
Regular Metrolink passenger service was restored through the accident scene the following Monday, January 31.
In an October 14, 2009 article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, Metrolink announced it had reached an agreement to settle most of the remaining claims.
A total of 11 passengers were killed in the collision, while between 100 and 200 people were injured. In terms of casualties, the crash had the same death toll as the Bourbonnais train accident on March 15, 1999, making it the deadliest U.S. train crash in almost six years.
Fatalities in this accident were:Manuel Alcala, 51, West Hills, Los Angeles
Julia Bennett, 44, Simi Valley
Alfonso Caballero, 62, Winnetka, Los Angeles
Elizabeth Hill, 62, Van Nuys, Los Angeles
Henry Kilinski, 39, Orange
Scott McKeown, 42, Moorpark
Thomas Ormiston, 58, Northridge, Los Angeles (a conductor on the northbound #901 Metrolink train)
William Parent, 53, Canoga Park, Los Angeles
Leonard Romero, 53, Rancho Cucamonga
Deputy James Tutino (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department), 47, Simi Valley
Don Wiley, 58, Simi Valley
Álvarez was allegedly suicidal long before the incident occurred. According to some reports, he had attempted suicide previously. In addition, he was a known methamphetamine addict, prone to delusional behavior. At the time of the train crash, Álvarez, the father of two young children, was experiencing marital difficulties. He reportedly was employed as a handyman in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, California.
Alvarez fled the scene after the crash, but was later found at a friend’s home in Atwater Village, Los Angeles.
Police initially believed that Álvarez decided to kill himself that day, but that he changed his mind immediately before the train hit his vehicle, jumping out of the car and observing as the collision took place. He was charged with, and subsequently convicted of, 11 counts of murder with "special circumstances". Police say following investigations indicate Álvarez may have intended to cause the crash without committing suicide. Authorities filed additional charges against him for murder with intent.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for his crimes under a seldom-used law making train wrecking, resulting in a person's death, a capital offense. This 1873 law was created to prosecute Old West train robbers who were known to blow up the tracks to rob a train.
During the trial, the defense maintained their claim that the crash was the result of Alvarez's aborted suicide attempt and he never intended to hurt anyone, but prosecutors claimed he deliberately caused the crash in an attempt to get attention from his estranged wife, citing that he doused his SUV with gasoline beforehand. A relative of one of the victims questioned why Alvarez did not simply lie down on the tracks if it was really a suicide attempt.
On June 26, 2008, Álvarez was found guilty of 11 counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and one count of arson related to the incident. He was acquitted of the train-wrecking charge.
On July 7, 2008, the hearing for sentencing for Álvarez started. On July 15, the jury chose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. On August 20, Álvarez was sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
A May 2005 episode of Law & Order titled "Locomotion" featured a train that hit an SUV and the subsequent investigation.