A Los Angeles-bound commuter train slammed into a tractor trailer stopped on the tracks in Oxnard, California during the morning rush hour, injuring 51 people, several critically, authorities said.
The truck driver fled on foot following the crash and was taken into custody several miles away, Oxnard City Fire Department spokesman Joe Garces said. He has since been arrested on a felony hit-and-run charge.
The fiery collision just before 6am PST (1400 GMT) in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, overturned three double-decker Metrolink rail cars. Two others derailed but remained upright.
Authorities said the train, which had been traveling at 79 miles per hour, had used an emergency braking system before hitting the truck.
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The force of the impact smashed the truck apart and television images showed burned-out chunks smoldering hours later.
National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt told reporters investigators would examine the train's recorders and seek to determine if crossing arms and bells were functioning properly.
"We are concerned with grade crossing accidents. We intend to use this accident and others to learn from it so that we can keep it from happening again," Sumwalt said.
The collision took place where the Metrolink tracks cross busy Rice Avenue in Oxnard, a street used by a steady stream of big rigs and farm trucks and lined with warehouses as well as stretches of farmland.
"It is a very dangerous crossing," said Rafael Lemus, who works down the street from the crash. "The lights come on too late before the trains come. It is not safe."
TRAIN'S DRIVER CRITICAL
There were no fatalities but 28 people were taken to six hospitals, some with significant head, neck and back traumas or broken bones, Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll told reporters.
Another 23 people were treated at the scene, he said.
A spokeswoman for Ventura County Medical Center said the hospital had received nine train passengers and that three were listed in critical condition.
Hospital spokesman Bryan Wong said the train's driver was among the critically injured.
Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center received six patients with minor injuries such as back, leg or shoulder pain, said spokeswoman Kris Carraway.
St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital in nearby Camarillo was treating two patients for minor injuries, a spokeswoman said.
The incident caused significant delays to Metrolink lines in Ventura County, forcing commuters onto buses. Oxnard is an affluent coastal city of some 200,000 about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The crash came three weeks after a Metro-North commuter train struck a car at a railroad crossing just outside New York City and derailed in a fiery accident that killed six people in the area’s worst rail crash in decades.
In 2008, a crowded Metrolink commuter train plowed into a Union Pacific locomotive in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people and injuring 135 in an accident officials blamed on the commuter train engineer’s failure to stop at a red light.
In 2005 a Metrolink train struck a sport utility vehicle parked on the tracks in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, killing 11 people and injuring 180.
Morning news break – February 25