A man angered because his former girlfriend
ended their relationship has been convicted of pushing her car into
the path of a freight train, killing her and three others.
Carlos Angel Diaz, of West Reading, was found guilty Monday of four counts of third-degree murder in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend, Candace Wertz, another woman and their two toddlers. If convicted of first-degree murder, he could have been sentenced to death.
Diaz, 23, bowed his head as the verdict was read. His mother held her head down and sobbed; the victims' families choked back tears but otherwise said nothing.
"We know, we have no doubt in our mind that he didn't do that," Diaz's sister, Liz Ruiz, said outside the courtroom.
Wertz's sister, Shelly Wendeln, issued a statement on behalf of her family.
"We feel the third-degree does not reflect true justice but it will keep Carlos Diaz away from the public," she said.
Diaz was also convicted of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and risking a catastrophe. He could be sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison for each of the four murder convictions; sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 31.
The jury deliberated three days before reaching its verdict. Jurors refused to speak to reporters as they left the courthouse.
The prosecution has said Diaz rammed Wertz's car after chasing her at speeds of up to 60 mph because he was upset she had broken up with him. A one-year protection-from-abuse order that Wertz obtained against Diaz expired 20 days before her death.
"We're satisfied with the verdict. We wish it was first-degree but this is fair based on the evidence," District Attorney Mark Baldwin said. "We find this a victory in this case."
Defense attorney Allan L. Sodomsky was pleased the jury rejected the first-degree murder charges.
"People automatically decided that Diaz deserved the death penalty. If you're interested in this case, you know what really happened," Sodomsky said. "The jury listened to everything."
Sodomsky had claimed the April 20 crash in the Reading suburb of Sinking Spring was accidental.
But a passenger in Diaz's car at the time of the crash testified that Diaz purposely rammed Wertz's car onto the tracks. Michael Ortega said Diaz pushed the accelerator on his car as the 8,000-ton Norfolk Southern train approached.
"He said 'Where you going to go, you bitch? The train's coming. You can't do nothing now,"' Ortega testified. "He was really angry, his face was red, his veins were bulging."
Killed were Wertz, 20; her 2-year-old son John Michael Cortez; Cynthia Jacques, 22; and her daughter Allisa, 2.
The deaths happened three months after Diaz was released from serving a four- to 23-month prison sentence for a parole violation.
The trial began Jan. 8. The jury of six men and six women was picked in Northampton County because Berks County President Judge Albert A. Stallone ruled that heavy news coverage in Berks would make it hard to find an impartial jury there.