Calif. Man Ordered to Stand Trial in Metrolink Crash That Killed 11

May 5, 2005

The Compton, California man accused of murdering the 11 people who perished in a fiery Metrolink crash in January was ordered this week to stand trial on all charges, including those that might result in a death sentence for him, the District Attorney’s office announced.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders ruled after a preliminary hearing of a little more than two days that there was sufficient evidence against 26-year-old Juan Manuel Alvarez for the case to proceed to trial.

Pounders held Alvarez to answer on 11 counts of murder with the special circumstances of murder by train wrecking and multiple murder. He also was held to answer on one count of arson.

Alvarez, who has been in custody without bail since his arrest shortly after the Jan. 26 crash, is to return to Pounders’ court on May 19 for arraignment. An arraignment and plea is necessary after a preliminary hearing because prosecutors must file a new charging document.

A decision has not yet been made by the District Attorney’s office to seek the death penalty against Alvarez. That decision will be made as the case gets closer to trial.

The Metrolink train derailed, killing 11 and causing injury to nearly 200 others, after hitting a Jeep Cherokee sitting on the track near Chevy Chase Drive. It was about 6 in the morning and the train was filled with commuters bound for downtown Los Angeles. It had just passed from Glendale into Los Angeles when it struck the SUV.

Witnesses testified at the preliminary hearing that Alvarez left the SUV on the track after dousing it with liquid from what appeared to be a water bottle. Other witnesses testified that two, one-gallon water bottles found at the scene tested positive for gasoline, as well as a piece of upholstery in the SUV and weather stripping on the outside of the vehicle. The SUV’s gas tank did not rupture, witnesses said.

Alvarez is accused of dousing the SUV with gasoline and leaving it on the track as he ran away. The resulting derailment was the worst Metrolink disaster since its trains started running in 1992.

According to testimony at the preliminary hearing, investigators tracked down Alvarez on the basis of various identification cards found at the scene, as well as the SUV’s registration. He was found at a friend’s home in Atwater Village, not far from where the train derailed.

Killed in the crash were: James Tutino, 47, a Sheriff’s deputy from Simi Valley; Scott McKeoun, 42, of Moorpark; Manuel Alcala, 51, of West Hills; Thomas Ormiston, 58, the train’s conductor from Northridge; Leonard Romero, 53, of Rancho Cucamonga; Henry Kilinski, 39, of Orange; Alfonso Caballero, 62, of Winnetka; Julie Bennett, 44, of Simi Valley; Don Wiley, 58, of Simi Valley; Elizabeth Hill, 65; and William Parent, 53, of Simi Valley. Many of the dead worked for various governmental agencies in and around Los Angeles.

Family members and friends of several of the victims attended the preliminary hearing. Head Deputy District Attorney Patrick Dixon and Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson of the Major Crimes Division are prosecuting the case.

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