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Investigation focuses on Metrolink engineer

911 calls from the day of the collision released
September 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Metrolink trains rolled through the station at Moorpark, past a makeshift memorial on the ground that serves as a somber reminder of last Friday's deadly collision that killed 25 people.The engineer involved in the deadly wreck of a Metrolink commuter train was text messaging while on duty the day of the crash, federal investigators said Wednesday.

In the wake of Friday's deadly Metrolink crash, full commuter train service resumed Wednesday between Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In Cypress Park, commuters are once again riding the rails and investigators are still trying to understand the cause of last week's tragedy.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigators are looking at every aspect of Engineer Robert Sanchez's personal life history. He was first employed 12 years ago as an engineer at Union Pacific. Then he went Amtrak. Then, in 2005, he was hired by the company that provides engineers to Metrolink.

Of utmost concern to investigators: Why an experienced train engineer like Robert Sanchez would ignore so many obvious warnings -- red signal lights, a rumble and shaking when the train rolled through a closed switch -- and then fail to brake when he saw the oncoming freight.

The 46-year-old Sanchez told friends he was diabetic. Did he go into insulin shock? The NTSB says it doesn't know.

Or was it the split shift he worked five days a week?

"He reported for duty at 5:54 a.m. He was off-duty at 9:26 a.m. He resumed duty at 2 p.m., and the accident happened at 4:23 p.m.," said NTSB investigator Kitty Higgins.

Most Metrolink engineers work split shifts. After their morning runs, they are taken to hotels for a break. Then they're picked up again to work the afternoon shift.

Robert Sanchez did exactly that last Friday. According to the NTSB, however, he managed to get some sleep.

"The engineer reported to the conductor that he had a two-hour nap during his mid-day break," said Higgins. "The conductor was not aware of any physical ailments that the engineer had. The conductor had no information on medication that the engineer might be taking."

Investigators are also looking into Sanchez's personal history. Neighbors describe him as a loner who had a misdemeanor conviction for theft.

In 2003, according to the L.A. Times, a man Sanchez shared a house with in Crestline hanged himself in the garage. Daniel Charles Burton left a note on February 14, 2003, that read: "Rob, Happy Valentine's Day. Please take care of yourself and Ignatia. I love you very much. Daniel."

The coroner's report showed Burton tested positive for HIV. Could a shock like that have affected Sanchez's work performance? Co-workers and friends say no. The NTSB says it has no answers yet.

All this comes under the heading of human factors in an NTSB investigation. It's an important part of many crash investigations that is turning out to be critical to this one.

The Los Angeles County Coroner's office released a list of people killed in the crash.

  • Christopher Aiken, 38
  • Dennis Arnold, 75
  • Dean Lafoy Brower, 51
  • Alan Lloyd Buckley, 59
  • Yi Chao, 71
  • Spree Desha, 35
  • Walter Arney Fuller, 54
  • Ronald Grace, 55
  • Michael Hammersly, 45
  • Jacob Hefter, 18
  • Kari Hsieh, no age given
  • Paul Long, no age given
  • Roger Spacey, 60
  • Ernest Stephen Kish II, 47
  • Gregory Lintner, 48
  • Manuel Macias, 31
  • Aida Magdaleno, 19
  • Beverly Mosely, 57
  • Charles Peck, 58
  • Howard Barry Pompel, 69
  • Donna Ramata, 49
  • Robert Sanchez, 46
  • Doyle Jay Souser, 56
  • Maria Elenea Villalobos, 18
  • Atul Vyas, 20
  • The City of Los Angeles announced a new public hotline number is now available for those impacted by Friday's Metrolink train accident. That number is (800) 854-7771, select option 2. The new hotline is staffed 24 hours by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Families and friends can get information about the whereabouts of a loved one involved in the accident. In addition, survivors of the accident, their families or anyone having difficulty in dealing with this tragedy can get referrals and resources for crisis counseling.

    The L.A. County Department of Mental Health is offering free counseling for people affected by the deadly Metrolink train crash. Two centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning Tuesday.

    San Fernando Valley Mental Health Center
    10605 Balboa Blvd., Ste. 100
    Granada Hills, CA 91344
    (818) 832-2400

    West Valley Mental Health Center
    7621 Canoga Ave.
    Canoga Park, CA 91304
    (818) 598-6900

    Eyewitness News Reporter Leo Stallworth and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

     

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