A Los Angeles-bound commuter train slammed into a produce truck apparently stuck on the tracks in a Southern California city before dawn on Tuesday, injuring 50 people in a fiery crash, some of them critically.
The truck driver, who was not hurt, left the scene of the destruction in Oxnard on foot and was found walking and disoriented one or two miles away, Assistant Police Chief Jason Benitez said.
Benitez said the 54-year-old driver from Arizona was not arrested but investigators were trying to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing in the 5:45 a.m. PST (8:45 a.m EST) wreck, which overturned three double-decker Metrolink rail cars. Two others derailed but remained upright.
While no-one was killed, the force of the impact ripped the truck apart and left burned-out chunks and twisted wreckage still smoldering hours later.
Benitez said it appeared that the truck driver had taken a wrong turn in the pre-dawn darkness and ended up on the tracks, where the rig became stuck as the train approached at 79 miles per hour.
But in a move that may have helped avert a more catastrophic accident, the train used an emergency braking system moments before impact, and the rail cars had safety features that helped absorb the energy of the crash, Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said.
“I think we can safely say that the technology worked. It definitely minimized the impact. It would have been a very serious collision, it would have been much worse without it,” Lustgarten said.
The crash came three weeks after a Metro-North commuter train struck a car at a crossing outside New York City and derailed in a fiery accident that killed six people.
TRAIN OPERATOR CRITICAL
Ventura County Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll said 50 people were hurt in the Oxnard incident, 28 of whom were transported to hospitals.
Among the most seriously injured was the train’s operator, who was in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Ventura County Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Sheila Murphy said.
The operator, who has not been publicly identified, suffered extensive chest injuries affecting his heart and lungs but was able to communicate with doctors, Murphy said.
National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt said investigators would examine the train’s recorders and seek to determine if crossing arms and bells were functioning properly.
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SOURCE: Reuters, Michael Fleeman