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No Charges Yet Against Truck Driver in Oxnard Train Crash

Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez remains in custody in suspicion of hit and run, with bail set at $150,000

Oxnard Police Officer Sarah Shobe watches a Union Pacific train go by at the site of Tuesday’s Metrolink crash where 30 people were injured in Oxnard.
Oxnard Police Officer Sarah Shobe watches a Union Pacific train go by at the site of Tuesday’s Metrolink crash where 30 people were injured in Oxnard. (Juan Carlo / Ventura County Star photo)

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Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez

Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten announced Thursday that no charges will be filed at this time against Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez, the driver of the truck involved in Tuesday's commuter train crash in Oxnard that injured 30 people.

The ongoing investigation is complex and involves numerous local and federal agencies, including the Ventura County District Attorney's Office, the Oxnard Police Department and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The DA must wait until the investigation is completed before making a formal decision regarding filing charges, according to a statement released by Totten's office.

"While the charges will not be filed at this time, the arrest of (Ramirez) by the Oxnard Police Department was clearly appropriate and lawful," the statement says.

A federal team leading an investigation into this week’s commuter train crash in Oxnard said they expect to know much more on Thursday about what happened.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigators have started reviewing data from video cameras recovered from the train.

"We can confirm that the forward-facing video camera did record data. We can also say that the forward-facing cameras did record the accident sequence. It recorded the actual collision," said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt.

Sumwalt said the train’s recorders were flown to the agency’s lab in Washington, D.C., where they were being reviewed.

Preliminary information from the data recorders show the train was traveling under the speed limit of 79 mph. But much more was expected to be known by later Thursday and released at a media briefing.

"We are very early in the investigation, but I do think by tomorrow we should have some good information," Sumwalt said Wednesday.

A few minutes after leaving the Oxnard Transit Center at 5:39 a.m., Metrolink Train 102 crashed into a truck abandoned on the tracks near Fifth Street and Rice Avenue, authorities said.

Three cars flipped in the crash, the truck pulling a trailer burst into flames, and 30 people were injured, four critically.

Police said Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Arizona, mistakenly turned onto the tracks instead of the road.

Sumwalt said the truck made it 80 feet down the tracks, where it was when the crash happened.

The driver, a mechanic with The Growers Company, Inc., of Somerton, Arizona, got out of the truck as the train headed toward it. He was later found walking and disoriented about a mile and a half from the crash scene, police said.

Late Tuesday afternoon, he was arrested on suspicion of felony hit and run with multiple injuries, police said.

Ramirez was scheduled to appear in court Thursday afternoon. He was being held in Ventura County Jail in lieu of $150,000 bail.

His attorney, Ron Bamieh, said he has filed a motion to have Ramirez released on his own recognizance.

Ramirez mistook the tracks for a road, Bamieh said, and continued driving. When he realized his mistake, he kept going, looking for a way off the tracks.

That’s when he saw the bright lights of the train 200 to 250 yards away, Bamieh said, so he ran.  

Bamieh said Ramirez tried to get help after the crash. The attorney disputed accounts that his client was found a mile and a half from the scene.

Of the 30 people injured and assessed at local hospitals Tuesday, eight were admitted. Six remained in the hospital Wednesday night, two still in critical condition.

The two in critical condition, including the train's engineer, were at the Ventura County Medical Center. The engineer's heart stopped Wednesday morning, but doctors were able to revive him, officials said.

This was not a traditional grade-crossing accident, Sumwalt said Wednesday.

The vehicle was not stuck at the grade crossing, either trapped between the gates or somehow bottomed out on the crossing itself, he said.

“What happened after it traveled westbound, why it remained there, is what we intend to find out,” Sumwalt said. “Why was that truck there? That’s a key question. And, once it was there, why did it not move?”

He said investigators likely will learn more about those issues after speaking to the truck driver and watching the video recorded from the train.

“We want to learn anything that we can from his perspective to help explain how that vehicle ended up driving down a railroad track,” Sumwalt said.

NTSB officials have reached out to Ramirez through his attorney, asking to talk to him about what happened Tuesday.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to interview the driver of that truck,” Sumwalt said.

But as of Wednesday, he didn’t know when that would happen.

Wednesday was the NTSB investigators first full day on the scene. As part of their investigation, team members are examining the interior and exterior of the train cars, which were moved to a Metrolink yard in Moorpark.

Investigators also are examining road markings and signage, traffic signals at the grade crossing and testing those signals.

In addition, investigators will look at street lighting to see if the grade crossing was adequately illuminated, and are working with the city of Oxnard to obtain traffic counts and road maintenance information.

Along with reviewing records and interviewing staff at both Metrolink and the Arizona company considered the operator of the truck involved in the crash, the NTSB team will look at 911 records and emergency response logs.

On Thursday, investigators were expected to start 3-D laser scanning of the train cars, the truck and the grade crossing. Those 3-D representations will help them continue their work once they leave Ventura County, Sumwalt said.

Marjorie Hernandez is a reporter with the Ventura County Star. Contact her at [email protected]

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