Message written in blood
Gene Blevins  /  Reuters file
Using his own blood, John Phipps left these messages to his wife and children when he thought he'd die in the wreckage of a train car last month.
updated 2/4/2005 11:55:20 AM ET 2005-02-04T16:55:20

The seriously injured passenger who used his own blood to scrawl a love message in the wreckage of a derailed train said he thought he was writing last words to his family.

“I don’t know why I did it. I didn’t think they would see it,” John Phipps said Thursday.

Phipps, 44, spent a week in the hospital with internal bleeding and head and groin injuries after he was pinned under the wreckage during the Jan. 26 disaster in neighboring Glendale.

Phipps, who walked on crutches, revealed his identity Thursday at a news conference where he was flanked by about a dozen firefighters who took part in the train rescue. He thanked them and called them heroes.

Eleven people died and 200 were hurt when a Metrolink commuter train struck a sport utility vehicle parked on the tracks in an aborted suicide attempt, officials said. The train derailed and struck another Metrolink train.

Beyond a Hallmark moment
Phipps’ message — scrawled in his own blood on an upended train seat — read “I (heart symbol) my kids. I (heart symbol) Leslie.”

Leslie Phipps said she doesn’t remember how she first learned about her husband’s message, but a nurse gave the family a photo that appeared in the paper.

“Hallmark is never going to top that,” she said. “It’s moving, it’s thoughtful and it’s chilling all at the same time.”

John Phipps said he normally wouldn’t have taken the train that derailed but had been called to work early at an aerospace plant in Burbank.

He sat upstairs in the double-decker car and went to sleep. The next thing he remembers, Phipps said, was waking up, feeling mist falling on his face, and seeing smashed bits of the train.

He touched the back of his head and his hands came away covered in blood. He called for help but got no immediate answer. Trapped under debris, he sang “Why Me Lord?” as he waited for rescuers.

Phipps said at one point he reached out, felt a chair and saw his bloody handprint. Believing he was dying, he found himself leaving a message.

Rescuer's thoughts
Fire Capt. Robert Rosario, the first to reach Phipps, discovered the note.

“I’ve seen some gruesome things on this job, but that moved me,” Rosario said at the news conference. “My only thoughts at that point was, I have to get this seat to his wife and kids.”

The story of the message had prompted hundreds of inquiries from journalists and the public, but officials had declined to release Phipps’ name before Thursday.

A daughter, 22-year-old Shara Phipps, said her family wasn’t surprised that he left the message, but she thinks her father should have been doing something else.

“It’s very sweet and I know he cares about us a lot,” she said. “But he should have been worried about keeping the blood inside instead of playing with it.”

The SUV’s driver, Juan Manuel Alvarez, was charged with murder. The seat has been kept as evidence and will be used at his trial, officials said.

About Alvarez, Phipps said he told his children: “There isn’t a thing on this planet to give up your life for.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Note from the heart

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