Video: Train crash survivor recounts harrowing tale

updated 9/14/2008 7:38:03 PM ET 2008-09-14T23:38:03

Atul Vyas scored in the top 1 percent on his medical school entry exams, but he was having trouble answering one question on applications to Harvard and Duke: Describe a hardship you've overcome.

"He said, 'I've not had any, I've had a blessed life,'" Vijay Vyas said of his son Sunday.

Atul Vyas never finished the application, never came closer his goal of working in biomechanics. On Friday, he was among 25 killed when a Metrolink commuter train collided with a freight train in nearby Chatsworth. He was 20. The accident was the nation's deadliest rail disaster in 15 years.

Other victims included a yoga instructor, an aspiring clothing designer, an air traffic controller and a seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Relatives and friends plan funerals
The train, which was carrying 222 people when it crashed during afternoon rush hour, was headed north toward Ventura County from downtown Los Angeles.

On Sunday, relatives and friends gathered to plan funerals and mourn together.

Atul Vyas was sitting in the front car of the Metrolink train, on his way to visit his parents in Simi Valley, his father said.

Atul's elder brother, who lives in London, was flying into Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. His parents did not tell him why they were summoning him to America, only that there was a family emergency.

"He has no idea," Vijay Vyas said. "I said, 'I don't want to discuss it, just show up.'"

Larry Remata had been celebrating the birthday of his 100-year-old mother in Hawaii when he first learned his wife, Donna, hadn't made it home from her downtown job.

Hours later, he learned she had died.

"I was shocked, I was mad, I was confused," said Remata, 58, a bus mechanic for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority. "I had all kinds of mixed emotions after hearing how the train accident happened."

"Right now, I am grieving," said Remata, who was planning to take his wife to Las Vegas for her 50th birthday next month. "It is starting to hit me a little bit. Especially seeing her name in the newspaper — it hurt me more."

Police officer killed in crash
The LAPD mourned one of its own.

Officer Spree Desha, 35, was heading home to Simi Valley from work. Desha had worked for the department for seven years and spent much of her career training new officers. She had been honored 34 times for performance and professional qualities, the department said.

Video: Officials probe deadly train crash "She sat in the first train (car) as a matter of practice, in uniform, so if someone came on the train and made trouble, she was ready to help out," Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell said Saturday.

In Simi Valley, where several victims had lived, officials were planning a community meeting Sunday to console residents and answer questions.

In a Starbucks just a block from the Metrolink's Simi Valley station that was frequented by many of the dead before they boarded their daily train, the daughter of one victim sat in an overstuffed armchair and remembered her father, Walter Fuller.

The 58-year-old was in charge of the control tower at Burbank Airport, north of Los Angeles, and worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, Kristi Fuller said.

Walter Fuller had been sitting in the front passenger car in a forward-facing chair, his family learned. Other family friends who were riding in backward-facing chairs walked away from the crash.

"It was very sad, we miss him and we miss him in our home — but we know that he went to a better place," said Fuller, 22, who described her family as devout Christians.

Fuller said her father was nicknamed "Grandpa" for his premature gray hair. He loved practical jokes and kept a jar of candy on his desk.

"He was serious when he needed to be," she said, "but he loved to joke around and give everybody a hard time."

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

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