Metrolink Crash: Truck Driver Arrested on Felony Hit and Run Charge

PHOTO: Southern Californias Metrolink commuter service says one of its trains struck a vehicle, causing a number of train cars to derail in Oxnard, Calif., Feb. 24, 2015.PlayKABC
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The truck driver involved in a crash with a Southern California Metrolink commuter train that left at least 28 people injured has been arrested on a felony hit-and-run charge, police said tonight.

The driver was identified as Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez, who had a valid commercial drivers license from Arizona, Oxnard Police Department Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites said.

Ramirez fled the scene but was found uninjured 1.6 miles away, and was not in the truck at time of collision, Benites said.

Police initially said the driver was arrested, but Benites said later he had been stopped but was not under arrest. This evening, however, Benites announced the arrest and charge.

Ramirez, 54, was driving a produce truck when he turned right onto the tracks, eventually getting stuck there, Benites said. Minutes after the crash, Benites added, an officer found the driver and said he looked disoriented.

The driver was taken to a hospital for observation.

Others injuries included people with head trauma and neck and back injuries who were taken to a hospital. Police said at least four people were critically injured, including the engineer. The conductor and another crew member were injured, treated and released from the hospital, officials said.

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Nine patients, including three in critical condition, were taken to Ventura County Medical Center.

Dr. Bryan Wong, the medical director at the Ventura County Medical Center, told ABC News station KABC-TV in Los Angeles tone patient told him the impact was so violent and sudden they had no chance to brace themselves.

"He felt a violent jerking motion, couldn't grab on seat," Wong said. "He was thrown against side of the train at that point."

PHOTO: Firefighters arrive to attend to injured passengers at the scene of a Metrolink accident, Feb. 24, 2015, in Oxnard, Calif. Johnny Corona/AP Photo
Firefighters arrive to attend to injured passengers at the scene of a Metrolink accident, Feb. 24, 2015, in Oxnard, Calif.

Another passenger, Joel Bingham, told KABC he was also thrown during the violent crash.

"I grabbed on to the pole and was flipping on the pole," Bingham told KABC. "The lights went out. It seemed like slow motion. It seemed like it took forever."

In addition to the 28 injured, another 23 passengers were on board who did not report being injured.

"We did what we could and we're lucky we survived," passenger Guy Basile told KABC.

Basile was not injured in the crash.

There have been no fatalities in the crash in which five train cars derailed and three were left on their side, according to Oxnard police. The train was heading toward downtown Los Angeles when it crashed.

Before hitting the truck, the train operator spotted the truck and applied the brakes, according to police. The train was traveling along 2 miles of flat railroad track so the truck was more easily visible.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced it will lead an investigation into the collision. At a news conference, NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt told reporters they are concerned about such collisions between trains and cars.

"Over 2,000 grade-crossing accidents every year, and there are about 250 fatalities, so this is something the NTSB is concerned about," Sumwalt told ABC when asked whether rail-crossing accidents are a widespread problem.

PHOTO: Southern Californias Metrolink commuter service says one of its trains struck a truck, causing a number of train cars to derail in Oxnard, Calif., Feb. 24, 2015.KABC
Southern California's Metrolink commuter service says one of its trains struck a truck, causing a number of train cars to derail in Oxnard, Calif., Feb. 24, 2015.

An NTSB spokesman confirmed they were sending investigators to the scene as well.

"This morning's accident on Metrolink's Ventura County Line is a tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration said. "Federal Railroad Administration investigators are en route to the scene, and they will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the factors that contributed to this accident. Safety must be every railroad's absolute top priority and we will establish what lapses, if any, occurred and order any necessary corrective actions."

Oxnard is about 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Deborah Hersman, the president of the National Safety Council and the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said this type of railroad at-grade crossing has been the site of other train and vehicle collisions across the United States.

"I think we see way too many of these grade cross crashes across the U.S.," Hersman said. "[We've] got to pay attention to this issue to prevent future fatalities and injuries."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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