Guilty of Murder By SUV and Train

June 27, 2008


A man who claimed he was attempting suicide when he triggered a 2005 rail disaster was convicted Thursday of 11 counts of first-degree murder and could face the death penalty.

Two commuter trains collided into a tangled mass of smoking wreckage littered with victims after Juan Alvarez left a gasoline-drenched sport-utility vehicle on railroad tracks in Glendale, northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Alvarez, 29, looked on stolidly as the Superior Court jury returned its guilty verdicts for the murders and one count of arson. The jury also agreed there was a special circumstance of multiple murders – making Alvarez eligible for the death penalty – but it acquitted him of a charge called train wrecking.

Jurors were ordered to return for the start of the penalty phase on July 7.

Alvarez had pleaded not guilty. He admitted causing the Jan. 26, 2005, disaster but claimed he had intended to kill himself, then changed his mind and was unable to get the SUV off the tracks.

A fast-moving Metrolink train struck the vehicle, derailed and struck another Metrolink train heading in the opposite direction and a parked freight train. In addition to the 11 deaths, about 180 people were injured.

Prosecutors denounced his claim of being suicidal as a lie and said he was trying to cause a calamity to get the attention of his estranged wife. Prosecutors said he started out that day with thoughts of killing his wife and then killed the rail passengers because she wasn’t available.

The derailment created a horrific scene of mangled rail cars. Workers from nearby businesses scrambled to rescue the injured before firefighters reached the scene.

As he lay injured in the wreck, John Phipps used his own blood to scrawl what he thought would be his last words to his wife and children: “I (heart symbol) my kids. I (heart symbol) Leslie.” He survived.

According to trial testimony, Alvarez fled the vehicle, left the scene and went to a friend’s house, where he stabbed himself with scissors. Alvarez testified he did not remember stabbing himself but did remember being in a hospital with puncture wounds.

The verdict relieved relatives of the dead.

Alberto Romero said he is reminded of his uncle Leonardo Romero’s death every day because Metrolink commuter trains run past his machine shop. Teresa Nance, whose mother, Elizabeth Hill, was killed, said that as the trial began she had nightmares of being in the train with her.

Neither Romero nor Nance, however, thought it was necessary for Alvarez to be executed.

“He needs to think about this every day of his life,” said Alberto Romero, 45, of Rancho Cucamonga.

Nance, 40, of Reseda, said a death sentence could end up being a life sentence anyway because of appeals. “He’s not going to get off, he’s not going to get out,” she said.

The defense painted Alvarez as a mentally ill victim of childhood abuse who became a drug addict. The prosecution called him a pathological liar whose claim of mental illness was a manipulative tactic.

Separately, the derailment led to a debate about the practice of running Metrolink trains in reverse, with the heavy engine at the rear being controlled from the other end by an operator in what is called a cab car.

Critics contended that the train wouldn’t have derailed if the heavy engine had struck the SUV. The railroad defends the practice.

Originally found @ AssociatedPress.com

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


1000s of People Get Drunk On Subways in London in Protest

June 1, 2008

London’s subway system was engulfed by thousands of revelers Saturday night, marking the introduction of an alcohol ban on the mass transit network.

Eyewitnesses have described how some drunken partygoers, often dressed in fancy dress, fought, damaged subway trains and vomited.

Authorities were forced to close six stations on the network, including major transportation hubs at Liverpool Street, Baker Street and Euston.

A spokesman for British Transport Police, which patrols the network, said that police had been told of a large “large amount” of disorder and “multiple instances of trains being damaged”, causing them to be pulled from service, the UK’s Press Association reported, adding: “This was an unfortunate end to what should have been a fun event.” There were reports of at least 17 arrests.

Much of the disorder concentrated on the Circle Line, which encircles the center of the city.

Many reports say that the night had begun good-naturedly.

Web programmer, David Mudkips, 25, from east London, told PA that the event was “Like rush hour but fun. There were people’s sweaty armpits in my face but I didn’t care because I was drinking.”

Student Frankie Abbott, 21, also from east London, said earlier in the evening: “It might be fun to do the whole night but I think it’s going to get a bit messy. There are guys drinking from funnels already.”

Sailor Peter Moore, 35, from Brighton on the southern English coast, told the agency his night was “Drunken, I just downed a can of beer in 10 seconds. It’s sweaty on there but I’m going round and round until I vomit.”

As the evening progressed the situation deteriorated.

Photographer Desmond Fitzgerald, 48, from south London, told PA that by 11pm at Gloucester Road subway station he was afraid someone might slip onto the tracks due to the amount of spilt alcohol on the platform.

“At first the atmosphere was happy but anarchic, defiant,” he said, with people wearing hats and having a good time.

As the journey progressed, more heavily drunk people joined the train, he added.

“Then a fight broke out between about five people, but because we were so tightly packed in it soon spread throughout the carriage and I had to struggle to escape to the next one,” he told PA.

“The atmosphere had really changed by this point. People were ripping off adverts and maps and being sick all over the place.

“When it pulled in to Embankment people fell out and carried on fighting on the platform. Thankfully police were there, and they handled it very well.”

Many of those gathered had learnt of the party on social networking Web sites, through groups with names such as “Circle Line Party – Last day of drinking on the tube”, which had 850-plus members listed by Saturday lunchtime, and “Party/Flashmob on the Underground”, with 1,300-plus names listed.

The anti-drinking strategy was introduced by newly elected London mayor Boris Johnson. He said before the party occurred: “I’m determined to improve the safety and security of public transport in London and create a better environment for the millions of Londoners who rely on it. The ban has the full support of the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police.

“I firmly believe that banning the drinking of alcohol on London’s public transport will create a better traveling environment for all Londoners and that if we drive out antisocial behavior and so called minor crime then we will be able to get a firm grip on more serious crime.”
But Bob Crow, General Secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union of which many subway staff are members, countered that the ban put workers at greater risk of of attack, reported PA, saying it was “half-baked.”

This story was originally found @CNN.com

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