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Juan Manuel ÁLVAREZ






A.K.A.: "Metrolink Killer"
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Parked his SUV on railroad tracks causing a train derailment
Number of victims: 11
Date of murders: January 26, 2005
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: February 26, 1979
Victims profile: Manuel Alcala, 51 / Julia Bennett, 44 / Alfonso Caballero, 62 / Elizabeth Hill, 62 / Henry Kilinski, 39 / Scott McKeown, 42 / Thomas Ormiston, 58 / William Parent, 53 / Leonard Romero, 53 / Deputy James Tutino, 47 / Don Wiley, 58
Method of murder: Train derailment
Location: Glendale, Los Angeles County, California
Status: Sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences on August 20, 2008

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Juan Manuel Álvarez (born February 26, 1979), a laborer from Compton, California, is a Californian convicted of causing the January 26, 2005, Glendale train crash, a collision between a passenger train, another passenger train, a freight train, and a car in Glendale, California (a suburb of Los Angeles).

He parked his gasoline-soaked sport-utility vehicle on the tracks and waited for a southbound Metrolink commuter train. At the approach of the train, allegedly unable to move his vehicle from the tracks, he exited, apparently abandoning a suicide attempt, and observed the train colliding with his SUV (causing the train to derail) from a safe distance.

The derailed train then hit a Union Pacific Railroad freight train parked on a siding, as well as a northbound Metrolink train on the third track. The collision left 11 people dead and nearly 200 injured.

Alvarez was allegedly suicidal long before the incident occurred. According to some reports, he had attempted suicide previously. In addition, he was a known methamphetamine addict, prone to delusional behavior. At the time of the train crash, Alvarez, the father of two young children, was experiencing marital difficulties.

Police initially believed that Alvarez decided to kill himself that day, but that he changed his mind immediately before the train hit his vehicle, jumping out of the car and observing as the collision took place. He was charged with, and subsequently convicted of, 11 counts of murder with "special circumstances". Police say following investigations indicate Alvarez may have intended to cause the crash without committing suicide. Authorities filed additional charges against him for murder with intent.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for his crimes under a seldom-used law making train wrecking, causing a person's death, a capital offense. This 1873 law was created to prosecute Old West train robbers who were known to blow up the tracks to rob a train.

On June 26, 2008, Alvarez was found guilty of 11 counts of first degree murder with special circumstances and one count of arson related to the incident. He was acquitted of the train wrecking charge.

On July 7, 2008, the hearing for sentencing for Juan Manuel Álvarez started.

On July 15, 2008, the jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

On August 20, 2008, Alvarez was sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences.


Metrolink killer is sentenced to 11 life terms in prison

A Los Angeles judge says he is not convinced that Juan Manuel Alvarez was trying to harm himself on 2005 when he triggered a train crash and killed 11 people

By Ann M. Simmons - Los Angeles Times

August 21, 2008

A gasp filled a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday as a judge sentenced a former Compton laborer to 11 consecutive life prison terms for triggering a commuter train crash that killed 11 people, the deadliest train crash in Metrolink's history.

Convicted murderer Juan Manuel Alvarez sat silent, and the gasp, along with audible sighs, came from the gallery as Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders handed down the sentence. Pounders also criticized Alvarez for lacking genuine remorse for the crash. He told Alvarez, 29, that "if there were a sentence 'forever,' I would certainly give it to you."

During the eight-week trial, prosecutors had argued that Alvarez had intended to kill commuters as part of a sick attempt to gain attention from his estranged wife when he parked his sport-utility vehicle on the train tracks. A Metrolink passenger train plowed into the vehicle, struck a parked freight train and slammed into an oncoming commuter train.

But defense attorneys had said Alvarez never meant to harm anyone and described his actions as part of an aborted suicide attempt.

Pounders was not convinced.

"I don't believe for a minute you intended to kill yourself or harm yourself in any way," he said. "I think you were setting up a scenario so you could go back to your family."

Alvarez will not be eligible for parole. Defense attorney Michael Belter said he had filed a notice of appeal on Alvarez's behalf.

About half a dozen family members of victims who died in the Jan. 26, 2005, crash addressed the court Wednesday.

Standing at a nearby lectern, Elaine Parent Siebers, sister of crash victim William Parent, looked directly at Alvarez and requested that he look at her. Alvarez shifted his chair slightly to face her.

"Thank you for looking at me because I want you to know the pain you have caused me," she said. "You did a very bad and stupid thing. If you have tried to cause pain and anguish, you have definitely succeeded."

Siebers asked why, if Alvarez wanted to kill himself, he didn't simply lie down on the tracks.

"Because of your selfishness, you have bestowed this terrible nightmare upon us, and it will never end," she said.

Siebers' other brother, Robert Parent, a retired state prison guard, said he got satisfaction just from knowing the conditions under which Alvarez was going to spend the rest of his life.

"I wish you the most miserable life possible," said Henry Romero, nephew of 53-year-old victim Leonardo Romero.

Todd McKeown, whose brother Scott was killed in the crash, attended almost every day of the trial. His voice cracked as he recounted how his niece had broken down sobbing during a recent father-daughter dance at a bat mitzvah. She realized she would never again have a chance to dance with her dad, McKeown later said.

Alvarez, who in June was found guilty of 11 counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson, apologized to the victims' families during the trial. He made no statement Wednesday.

Lien Wiley, widow of crash victim Don Wiley, told Alvarez that although she was devastated by the loss of her spouse, she forgave the former laborer.

Wiley told the court that she believed that Alvarez never intended to harm anyone but himself. She blamed the severity of the crash on the Metrolink train company's use of a controversial "push-pull" system to operate trains.

But several speakers told Alvarez he was undeserving of forgiveness. Hope Alcala, whose son Manuel perished in the crash, said Satan would ultimately deal with Alvarez.

"Who knows if God will forgive you, because I can't," Alcala said.


Jury Recommends Life Without Parole for Convicted Metrolink Killer

Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office

July 15, 2008

Los Angeles - A jury that convicted Juan Manuel Alvarez of the first-degree murders of 11 people who perished in a fiery Metrolink crash in January 2005 recommended today that he be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Given the human suffering and loss of life inflicted by Alvarez, this case was appropriately put before the jury for a penalty decision,” said District Attorney Steve Cooley in a prepared statement. “Great credit should go to the Glendale Police Department investigators and Deputy District Attorneys John Monaghan and Cathryn Brougham of the Major Crimes Division.”

The jury reached the penalty verdicts after less than a half-day of deliberation. Alvarez, 29, is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 20 by Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders, who presided over the nearly three-month trial.

The same jurors took just over a day to convict Alvarez last month of 11 counts of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of multiple murders. The nine women and three men also convicted him of one count of arson, but found him not guilty of one count of train wrecking. Jurors additionally found untrue the special circumstance of train wrecking.

The 11 victims were killed and nearly 200 others injured in the pre-dawn crash on Jan. 26, 2005, near Chevy Chase Drive. The Metrolink train derailed after hitting Alvarez’s Jeep Cherokee, which he had left on the track.

The train, which had just passed out of Glendale, was filled with early morning commuters bound for downtown Los Angeles. It was the worst Metrolink disaster since its trains started running in 1992.

Witnesses testified that Alvarez left the SUV on the track after dousing it with gasoline. He ran away, but was tracked down on the basis of various identification cards found at the scene.

He was found at a friend’s home in Atwater Village, not far from the site of the derailment. Alvarez has remained in jail without bail since his arrest.

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 of the victims testified at the week-long penalty phase. Jurors began deliberations late yesterday and announced at 11:30 a.m. that they had reached a decision.


The 2005 Glendale train crash is the second deadliest incident in the history of Metrolink, the commuter railroad in the Los Angeles, California, area. It was overtaken as the deadliest by the 2008 Chatsworth train collision.

On January 26, 2005, at 6:03 a.m. PST, southbound Metrolink commuter train #100 collided with a sport utility vehicle that had been abandoned on the tracks immediately south of the Chevy Chase Drive grade crossing and near a Costco retail store on the Glendale-Los Angeles boundary, in an industrial area, north of downtown Los Angeles. The train jackknifed and struck trains on either side of it—one a stationary Union Pacific freight train, and the other a northbound Metrolink train (#901) traveling in the opposite direction. The chain-reaction collisions resulted in the deaths of 11 people. Among the first responders to the accident were employees of the Costco store, adjacent to the accident site, who placed calls to 9-1-1 and climbed the bordering fence to aid the victims.

Juan Manuel Alvarez, who left his Jeep Cherokee Sport vehicle parked on the tracks, was arrested and charged with 11 counts of murder with "special circumstances." Authorities and Alvarez's legal defense claimed Alvarez was planning to commit suicide, but changed his mind at the last minute. Alvarez was convicted in June 2008 of the eleven counts plus one count of arson, and though prosecutors sought a death sentence, was sentenced in August 2008 to 11 consecutive life sentences in prison with no possibility of parole.


In the early morning rush hour period, northbound train #901 (leaving Los Angeles) normally carries between 30 and 50 passengers; the southbound #100 train (approaching Los Angeles) normally carries between 200 and 250 people.

The freight train involved in the accident was "tied up" (parked) on an auxiliary track known as "The Slide," running parallel along the west side of the main tracks, waiting its turn to deliver track ballast to repair tracks on the former Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Line (so called because it runs along California's coast from Ventura County through Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo) that had been washed out by major January 2005 rainstorms.

The next day, police intervened in a similar "copycat" incident in Irvine, California where a suicidal man parked his car on Metrolink tracks. The man drove away from the tracks when police arrived and was later arrested, possibly preventing another accident.

Regular Metrolink passenger service was restored through the accident scene the following Monday, January 31.


A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team investigated the crash. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen's (BLET) Safety Task Force assisted the NTSB. The Glendale Police Department led the criminal investigation, assisted by the Union Pacific Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and the criminal case was tried in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The southbound Metrolink train (#100) struck the parked Jeep that had been driven by Alvarez onto the tracks at the Chevy Chase Drive grade crossing just west of San Fernando Road (map), pushing the Jeep southward along the track towards the Los Feliz Boulevard undercrossing until automotive parts struck a track switch and became lodged under the leading car of the Metrolink train, raising it up and causing the train to derail. Cars from the derailed train jackknifed, hitting both the locomotive of the stationary freight train and sideswiping the rear of the passing northbound #901 Metrolink passenger train. This caused the rear cars of the northbound train to derail, and at least one car rolled over onto its side. A fire, involving one or more passenger cars, was caused by spilled diesel fuel.

The root cause of the accident was attributed to the driver of the automobile, Juan Manuel Alvarez of Compton, California, who deliberately drove and left his vehicle onto the tracks while allegedly attempting to commit suicide. Having slashed his wrists and stabbed himself repeatedly in the chest, he parked his car on the tracks to finish the attempt. However, Alvarez changed his mind and attempted to leave the railroad tracks. Because he was unable to dislodge his vehicle from the rain-soaked gravel and slick rails, he abandoned the vehicle moments before the crowded southbound train approached. (There is some speculation that Alvarez may have inflicted the wounds on himself after the crash, based on some early reports by witnesses). Both this causation and the end result have many similarities to that of the Ufton Nervet rail crash in the United Kingdom, which occurred only three months previously, although in that case the driver of the car stayed in the vehicle and was killed.

Early rumors of the incident being a terrorist attack were dismissed, as no connections to any terrorist organization existed with the suspect.

Police on the scene found Alvarez wandering the streets repeating "I'm sorry"; they remanded him into custody after determining that it was his vehicle parked on the tracks. Facing 11 counts of murder, he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on February 15, 2005.

On August 26, 2005, prosecutors officially announced that they would seek the death penalty against Alvarez, and were prepared to use a rarely cited "train wrecking" statute in California law, even though trains rarely derail when they hit a car. On June 26, 2008, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found Alvarez guilty of 11 counts of first degree murder with special circumstances. Alvarez was sentenced to eleven consecutive life prison terms on August 20, 2008.


The train wreck called intense attention to the train configuration. Many commuter trains are pushed from the back by the locomotive, including Metrolink trains returning to Los Angeles Union Station; in a "pusher configuration", the first car is a special passenger car with controls for an engineer at the end (sometimes referred to as the "cab car"). The rear-pushed configuration eliminates elaborate turnaround maneuvers and facilities to reverse a train's direction. There was severe criticism that this rear-pushed configuration made the accident worse: many people claimed that if the heavier engine were ahead of the passenger cars, southbound train #100 would not have jackknifed and cause the second train to derail. This situation is similar to the Selby and Polmont rail crashes in the United Kingdom.

Immediately following the accident, Metrolink temporarily roped off the first cars in all of their trains; passengers sat starting in the second car. Metrolink gradually modified this policy, and as of 2007, the line permits passengers to sit in a portion the first car when in "push mode." Seating is not permitted in a roped-off forwardmost section of the first car just behind the engineer's cab.

The incident has inspired a few television series episodes. A May 2005 episode of Law & Order titled "Locomotion" featured a train that hit an SUV and the subsequent investigation. A June 2005 episode of Strong Medicine contained a storyline that referenced the train wreck.


A total of 11 passengers were killed in the collision. Between 100 and 200 people were injured. In terms of casualties, the crash had the same death toll as the Bourbonnais train accident on March 15, 1999, making it the deadliest U.S. train crash in almost six years.

Fatalities in this accident were:

  • Manuel Alcala, 51, West Hills, Los Angeles

  • Julia Bennett, 44, Simi Valley

  • Alfonso Caballero, 62, Winnetka, Los Angeles

  • Elizabeth Hill, 62, Van Nuys, Los Angeles

  • Henry Kilinski, 39, Orange

  • Scott McKeown, 42, Moorpark

  • Thomas Ormiston, 58, Northridge, Los Angeles (a conductor on the northbound #901 Metrolink train)

  • William Parent, 53, Canoga Park, Los Angeles

  • Leonard Romero, 53, Rancho Cucamonga

  • Deputy James Tutino (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department), 47, Simi Valley

  • Don Wiley, 58, Simi Valley

In a October 14, 2009 article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, Metrolink announced it had reached an agreement to settle most of the remaining claims.

In remembrance of the accident, all Metrolink train engineers were asked to sound their trains' horns at 12:01 Pacific Time, February 2, 2005, and the former Control Point Metro (milepost 3.3 on the Metrolink River Subdivision) was renamed Control Point Ormiston in memory of the conductor who was killed instantly.



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