Hearing delayed for suspect in deadly L.A. train derailment

Train Crash Suspect Charged With Murder
A hearing for Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, Calif., was delayed Friday for further medical evaluation.Glendale Police Deparment / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

A man charged with murder for allegedly triggering the collision of two commuter trains during an aborted suicide attempt appeared in court Friday, but the hearing was delayed so the suspect could undergo further medical evaluation.

Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, who also apparently tried to slash his wrists and stab himself after the wreck, was brought to court in what appeared to be a hospital smock and had bandages on his wrists.

Standing in shackles, Alvarez’s head was tipped forward and his eyes were downcast, but he looked up occasionally to glance across the courtroom.

Superior Court Commissioner Dennis Mulcahy granted a request by defense attorney Eric A. Chase to delay the arraignment. The hearing was rescheduled for Feb. 15.

Asked by the commissioner if he agreed to the delay of the arraignment, Alvarez said, “Yes, sir.” He said nothing else.

Chase said he wanted time to get opinions from medical experts on Alvarez’s state of mind.

‘Lynch mob mentality’
Outside court, Chase said that there was a “lynch mob mentality” and that he wanted people to “take a step back and think about the consequences of their actions.”

The Glendale police chief described Alvarez earlier in the week as “deranged.”

Authorities say Alvarez caused the wreck by driving an SUV onto tracks to kill himself and then changed his mind and left the vehicle. The vehicle was struck by one train, which derailed and hit a second train. Eleven people died and nearly 200 were injured.

Two local newspapers reported that Alvarez ran to the porch of a nearby home and used scissors to slash and stab himself after standing by as the trains derailed in the fiery chain-reaction crash.

A woman in the house called 911, and Alvarez told paramedics what happened as he was being rushed to a hospital. They radioed police, who arrested him. It had previously been unclear when Alvarez harmed himself.

A 911 tape revealed the drama moments after the nation’s deadliest rail crash in nearly six years, as an employee at a nearby Costco store reported the disaster and at the same time directed other employees to fight the flames.

“There’s a Metrolink that runs adjacent to the — oh, they need fire extinguishers! Quick! Quick!” she yelled to other workers.

“What’s going on?” asked the dispatcher. “What’s going on, ma’am?”

“The Metrolink derailed right on the side of the building!” she said.

Emergency workers officially ended their recovery efforts Thursday after determining there were no more survivors or bodies to be found. They immediately set out on the job of cleaning up. On Friday, the mangled train cars were to be carried off the tracks.

The tracks were expected to be reopened Monday, Metrolink officials said. Commuters, meanwhile, were taking buses from the Glendale station into downtown Los Angeles’ Union Station.

Alvarez, who was under suicide watch at a hospital’s jail ward, was expected to face 11 murder counts with the special circumstance of murder by train derailment — added to state law because thieves once blew up tracks to steal from trains.

Prosecutors did not immediately indicate whether they would seek the death penalty against Alvarez.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said prosecutors were evaluating Alvarez’s mental state in regard to the special circumstance allegation, but he asserted that it was no defense to the charges.

‘His despondency doesn't move me’
“His despondency doesn’t move me,” Cooley said. “The mere fact that he was a little upset or despondent doesn’t mean he has a defense for anything.”

Meanwhile, in a possible copycat incident, a suicidal man who parked his SUV on railroad tracks in Orange County was arrested early Thursday, said Irvine police Cmdr. Dave Freedland. The man drove off when police spotted him and, after a chase, a dispatcher talked him out of suicide during a cell phone call.