GLENDALE, Calif. – A suicidal man who allegedly parked his SUV in the path of a commuter train and triggered a horrific wreck that killed 11 people was charged with murder and could face the death penalty, authorities said Thursday.
The criminal case moved forward against Juan Manuel Alvarez as police and forensics experts worked to gather evidence from the crime scene and coroner’s investigators searched the tangled wreckage for any remaining body parts.
Prosecutors have not decided if they will seek the death penalty against Alvarez, 25, who had been ordered by a court to stay away from his family after his wife alleged he abused drugs and threatened them.
Authorities say he also had slashed his wrists and stabbed himself at some point during his aborted suicide attempt. He remained hospitalized Thursday, and a court hearing was set for Friday.
District Attorney Steve Cooley said Thursday prosecutors were evaluating Alvarez’s mental state in deciding a possible punishment, but he asserted that the man’s mental issues were no defense.
“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.”
Authorities say Alvarez drove his green Jeep Cherokee into the path of a Metrolink commuter train early Wednesday. He then changed his mind and got out of the vehicle just before the Jeep was struck by a train heading to Los Angeles, police said. That train derailed, plowed into a parked freight train and struck another train heading in the opposite direction. The second train also derailed.
He stood by as the gruesome chain-reaction wreck scattered debris and bodies over a quarter-mile of track. It was the nation’s worst train wreck in nearly six years.
Alvarez was charged with 10 counts of murder, but another count was to be added following the discovery of an 11th body in the mangled trains. Everyone from the crash was accounted for Thursday. More than 180 people were injured, including seven who were in critical condition Thursday.
Alvarez’s family retained defense attorney Eric A. Chase, but he planned no comment until after today’s court appearance, said Dann Novak, senior administrator of Chase Law Group.
Court documents show that Alvarez’s estranged wife, Carmelita Alvarez, obtained a restraining order against him in December, requiring him to keep away from her, their 3-year-old son and other family members.
“He is using drugs and has been in and out of rehab twice,” she said in asking for the restraining order. “He threatened to take our kid away and to hurt my family members.”
Carmelita Alvarez, who went into seclusion shortly after the crash, also had told the court her husband’s drug use was triggering hallucinations.
Meanwhile, police began collecting forensic evidence from the scene for the prosecution, using laser measuring devices to create a digital map of the wreckage. Two large cargo containers were brought in to store evidence.
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