Manslaughter Charge Filed in California Train Crash

Prosecutors in Ventura County, California, filed a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter Monday against a man who drove his pickup truck onto train tracks last year, causing the deadly derailment of a Southern California commuter train.

The charge, announced by District Attorney Gregory Totten, stems from the Feb. 24 collision that killed the Metrolink train’s engineer, 62-year-old Glenn William Steele, and injured 34 others in the city of Oxnard. The filing came two days before the statute of limitations for such a charge.

Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Arizona, was initially jailed by investigators but was released. Police found the disoriented driver of the demolished Ford F-450 pickup 1.6 miles from the crossing 45 minutes after the crash.

His attorney, Ron Bamieh, said Sanchez-Ramirez accidentally turned onto the tracks and made repeated attempts to get the vehicle off the rails, then ran for his life as the train approached out of fear that fuel he used to power tools for his work repairing farm machinery might cause an explosion.

Prosecutors’ announcement said he “did not notify authorities of his predicament prior to the collision and derailment.” Bamieh disputed that, saying Sanchez-Ramirez, who doesn’t speak English well, tried to get help from a passer-by, attempted to call his employer, and eventually reached his son to help him speak with police.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Sanchez-Ramirez turned right 55 feet prematurely onto train tracks in what it termed a mistake – getting caught there – during the dark early morning hours.

The investigation took nearly a year to complete and was submitted for review Feb. 10. Sanchez-Ramirez is scheduled to be arraigned March 23 in Ventura County.

Oxnard Police Assistant Chief Jason Benites said the filing is serious and indicates there is “some degree of contributory negligence” that caused Steele to be killed.

If found guilty, Sanchez-Ramirez faces up to a year in jail.