Federal investigators released new details Thursday about a deadly Metrolink derailment in Oxnard which occurred late last month when the four-car train collided with an unoccupied pickup truck that became lodged on the tracks.
Just before dawn on Feb. 24, the driver of the Ford 450 truck with an attached utility trailer was traveling south on South Rice Avenue approaching the intersection of East Fifth Avenue when he turned onto the railroad right-of-way and ended up on the tracks instead, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The crossing’s active warning system was not activated at the time because the Los Angeles-bound Metrolink train had not yet approached the crossing, the NTSB report said.
The driver, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, continued driving while partially on the railroad for 80 feet before the truck became stuck on the southernmost rail of the track, according to the report.
He then illuminated his headlights, turned on his hazard lights and kept the driver-side door open as he he exited the lodged Ford and left the scene.
A student engineer was operating the train at the time and began sounding the train’s horn about a quarter-of-a-mile west of the crossing and utilized the train’s emergency braking system.
Roughly eight seconds later, the train collided with the truck, resulting in a fiery wreck and the derailment of the four cars, the report said. Three of the four cars overturned and came to a rest on their sides, while a locomotive at the rear of train did not derail.
The collision resulted in the death of the train’s engineer, 62-year-old Glenn Steele. His heart had stopped twice Wednesday following the crash, and the veteran engineer succumbed to his injuries seven days later.
The two other crew members and 31 of the train’s 46 passengers sustained injures as a result of the derailment that ranged from serious to minor, federal investigators said in the report.
A 1998 Toyota Camry was struck by debris from the collision but the vehicle’s sole occupant was not injured.
Sanchez-Ramirez, who left the scene before the deadly incident, was also uninjured.
Oxnard police initially arrested the 54-year-old Yuma, Arizona resident on suspicion of hit-and-run, but no charges have been filed against him.
An attorney for Sanchez-Ramirez described the whole thing as “an accident,” saying his client had fled the tracks to get help.
A statement from the Ventura County District Attorney’s office released two days after the crash described his arrest as “clearly appropriate and lawful,” but said prosecutors would wait for the conclusion of the local and federal investigations before deciding whether to file charges.
The NTSB cautioned that the report was preliminary and that the information in it could “be supplemented or corrected” as the investigation continues.