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Three Killed in Commuter Train Collision

Aired April 23, 2002 - 14:58   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As we wait for the 3:00 news conference from Placentia, California, we will up date you on the breaking news story we have been talking about all morning. Three people have died. At least 265 have been injured in a California train collision this morning. What happened is a Metrolink commuter train collided head-on with a mile long freight train during the morning rush hour today.

Once again killing three people and injuring at least 265 people including about 70 more that were taken to area hospitals and trauma centers. The remaining we are told were not considered life- threatening. As you can see here the injured are still being treated on the scene. We are told St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton set up a disaster plan, calling additional doctors, nurses and other medical personnel and also set up a triage center right there on the scene, and brought in a large mobile treatment unit to the area of the accident to treat the injured.

We are told this is the worst incident in the nearly ten-year history of the Metrolink train. It is a system that serves all of Southern California. Hundreds of people take this to and from work and to get around. This specific train, train 809, was leaving Riverside, California, heading to San Juan Capistrano when this accident occurred about 8:16 California time this morning.

Once again, three people are dead. At least 265 injured in this train collision in Southern California. It happened in Placentia, California, not far from Anaheim, not far from Los Angeles. That is all of the information we have at this point. There are phone lines set up. You are able to call the St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton. Or you can also call, we are told, the Placentia Linda Hospital (ph) where a number of the injured have also been taken.

You can see as the injured have been taken away in ambulances, there is also a makeshift triage center that has been set up in the gravel next to the train tracks there, where dozens of people are continuing to be treated for injuries as you can see, wearing neck braces, a number of them being taken out on stretchers.

We are also told that the Orange County Fire Department has a number of personnel continuing to go through the train looking for the injured, treating the injured inside of the train. We are told it is not a fire threat right now, it has been contained. And they are not expecting any problems with the train there off of the tracks. Now we also aren't sure if -- about the impact. If both trains were moving at the time, it is not clear, just the details on that, but we can tell you that once again three people have died, at least 265 injured in this California train collision. Do we have that tape by chance of the folks that survived this crash? Can we roll that as we await the news conference set to happen any minute now in Placentia. Let's go ahead and listen to some of these folks and what they had to say.

As we try and bring you those interviews we had talked to -- or the cameras rather the reporters on the scene there, in the Los Angeles area, did to our Los Angeles -- reporters rather -- in this area of Orange County, did talk to some of the folks that did survive this crash. And they say they felt the impact, basically stayed put, joined together sort of supporting and encouraging each other as medical personnel responded quickly to the scene and started treating the injured.

And we are told immediately that the St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton came out and activated a disaster plan calling in a number of additional doctors and nurses and other medical personnel to help set up this triage center. And also a mobile treatment unit was brought out to help treat the injured here. We now have that interview with one of the gentlemen that survived this crash.


ROBERTO ALMIDA, INJURED IN CRASH: It took me a second to know what happened, and then the noise, and you go flying around and the next thing you know, you know the train is in a different shape, and people are bruised and bloodied and but, I guess the best part about it is that people, all of the passengers immediately drew together and I thought that was really great, everyone was immediately checking to see who was hurt, offering rides to people that needed them, things like that, so even though it is a traumatic experience, it brought the best out of people.


PHILLIPS: Once again, at least three people have been killed, 265 injured in the California train collision, where a Metrolink commuter train collided head-on with a mile-long freight train during this morning's rush hour. Let's listen now to the public information officer from Orange County Fire Department.

CAPTAIN STEVE MILLER, ORANGE COUNTY F.D.: We have audio, something -- somebody is complaining about audio.

We are at the intersections of Orangethorpe and Richfield. We had two trains collide, unknown as far Metrolink to comment on the accident.

As far as the fire department goes, we treated 162 patients here at the scene. We have numerous agencies assisting us with this from the police department, we have had Orange County Sheriff, Orange County Coroners Office, Placentia P.D., Anaheim P.D., Brea P.D., California Highway Patrol and we also have the PIO here from Santa Anna for any Spanish speaking stations that may be here.

From the fire department, we have Orange County Fire Authority, Brea Fire Department, Fullerton Fire Department, Anaheim Fire Department, and Orange City Fire Department.

At this moment, we are in a unified command with the Orange County Fire Authority, and Placentia P.D., and will be transitioning that to the Placentia P.D. and when the National Transportation Safety Board when it arrives on scene, they will also be involved.

As you are aware, the primary goal when we arrived here are a tremendous amount of patients to treat. We have an emergency plan within the county that deals with those types of issues. It is what we call a mass casualty incident. We had to bring a tremendous amount of resources to deal with that and our primary goal was to triage patients and get them to the appropriate facility.

We utilized hospitals throughout Orange County and possibly even L.A. County. The primary goal right now is to get all of the emergency equipment into ready status to assist the rest of the county for other calls. Our second goal is to assist the families in any way possible as far as involved people or relatives or friends. We also, the next thing we will do is the release the scene to the railroad, maintain scene security, be transforming command to the police department, and continue any support needed whatsoever to assist in the investigation. And at this time, I would like to call upon Jamie (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to make his comments.

JIM AMORMINO, SPOKESPERSON, ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF/CORONER'S OFFICE: At this time we have two confirmed fatalities. Both were male passengers, one, aged 59, riding in the front passenger vehicle, who died at the scene. The second fatality is a male, 48 years of age riding in the third passenger vehicle.

The second fatality passed away at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton.

QUESTION: Jim, how come the deceased was way down there at the other end of the accident?

AMORMINO: That was set up as a temporary morgue.

The cause of death will not be determined until the autopsy has been performed. It will be some time later today or tomorrow morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we could real quick we would like to get through all the comments because we have certain issues we would like to deal with, and then we will get to questions after that.

Thank you. Next from Metrolink I have Sharon Gavin.

SHARON GAVIN, SPOKESMAN, METROLINK: My name is Sharon Gavin. I am the spokesperson for Metrolink. This incident Metrolink train 809 left the Riverside Station at approximately 7:29 this morning heading south towards San Juan Capistrano. It left the West Corona Station in Riverside County, and was heading into our Anaheim Canyon Station when it was struck by the freight train here. The train was traveling in what is known as a cab forward position, that means that the locomotive is in the rear of the train, the engineer is in the cab car in the front of the train and is controlling the locomotive from there. That is why although it looks like this was a rear ended situation, it was actually a head-on collision between the freight train's locomotive and our cab car.

QUESTION: The front of the train?

GAVIN: That is the locomotive of the train. The front of the train is to my left here.

I will take questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have one more person to speak with the family center. I would like to bring forth Ryan (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and then we will get to all your questions, I promise. He has some issues with Family Assistance.

RYAN KALTENBAUGH, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Hello my name is Ryan Kaltenbaugh. I am with the American Red Cross here in Orange County.

Today we were called, we have 40 to 50 volunteers that are responding to the location as well as local hospitals to assist in family services. The Red Cross has also set up a family service center here in Placentia at 505 North Jefferson, and if there are any families that need information on their family members involved in the accident or you think they may have been involved in the accident, please contact Metrolink.

The Red Cross has been also gotten donations from the local community here for water and ice for the emergency workers and the personnel that are assisting on this particular incident. The Red Cross is providing 350 to 400 meals throughout the day and evening, any questions?

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any opening questions for any of the personnel up here?


QUESTION: Can you shed some light on why this train (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

GAVIN: These tracks are dispatched by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. They own this particular section of track and they do the dispatching on this. The train dispatcher works very much like an air traffic controller, they are in a separate location, looking at a screen that show them all the train traffic in the area. As far as why these trains were in these particular situations, that is what the NTSB is conducting the investigation on right now. QUESTION: Is there a possibility that a light was run, I mean there is lights all over, the switch was made for the freight train? Is there any possibility any indications somebody ran a light?

GAVIN: The NTSB is here right now, on the scene. They will be -- they are conducting the investigation and they will have more information as far as train directions, whether or not signals were working, what switches were in place, et cetera, later on in this afternoon.

QUESTION: Do we know -- either what was -- (OFF-MIKE) warned there was another train (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the freight train was slowing down?

GAVIN: That is what's being investigated right now. We do not have all of the details on this incident right now. Obviously this is a very tragic, and very complicated situation.

QUESTION: How far from the Anaheim stop was this Metrolink? How far away was it?

GAVIN: This train was about three minutes outside of the Anaheim Canyon stop. Trains in this area, normally travel, freight trains will travel at approximately 50 miles per hour, and passenger trains can travel at 60 miles per hour. Those are the posted speed limits on the tracks. I do not know how fast the trains were going.

QUESTION: This train was almost at a dead stop. That is very unusual. Is that correct?

GAVIN: We have approximately 300 people on the train.

QUESTION: This train was at a dead stop. Is that normal?

GAVIN: We don't know whether it was at a complete stop. That is still being investigated.

QUESTION: If it was, is that a normal situation?

GAVIN: I am sorry, I cannot explain what happened. That is what is being investigated right now. What happened is that our train 809 was on a normal run. It left the Anaheim Canyon -- left the West Corona station was heading to the Anaheim Canyon station on time, on its normal route. I do not know that. That is something that the NTSB will have for us later.


GAVIN: The engineer was in the front of the train in the cab car of the front of the Metrolink train. The locomotive is located in the back, and again, this is called a cab-forward poison, for the train.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) less than 265 injuries, or how many (OFF- MIKE) MILLER: What we have 162 patients that were treated and transported, to the hospitals. That does not account for any of what we call the walking wounded that denied treatment and/or left the scene.


MILLER: I do not have the exact injuries, but normally the -- like a car accident...

PHILLIPS: You have been watching the news conference out Placentia, California, talking about now confirming two people have died, and at least 265 injured in this train collision. New information we can tell you: the two confirmed dead a 59-year-old male, and a 48-year-old male that was confirmed by Jim Amorino at the Orange County Sheriff's Coroner's office.

Also, we can tell you that this mass casualty incident, is what it is being called, the Orange County Fire Department saying they treated 162 patients right there at the scene. Others had gone to various hospitals in the area.

Sharon Gavin from Metrolink, the commuter train that crashed into the freight train, is confirming it was a head-on collision. The NTSB is there now conducting an investigation. They do not now know how fast the trains were going or if indeed the freight train was also moving.

Family assistance program has also been set up. The Red Cross is there. A gentlemen from the Red Cross said that about 50 volunteers are there, trying to assist any way that they can, and also help families, and friends related to those that have been injured in the accident, they were talking about a center set up at 505 North Jefferson, that is the exact address, you can go to that center, or contact Metrolink to find out more on the injured and the dead.

Once again two people dead, at least 265 hurt in the California train collision. As we get more information we will bring it to you.




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