LOS ANGELES -- The Metrolink engineer at the controls of the passenger train that ran a red light and hit a Union Pacific freighter, killing 25 commuters, was a lifelong train enthusiast, as well as a loner with a misdemeanor criminal record, it was reported Tuesday.
Robert Martin Sanchez, 46, who lived in La Crescenta with four miniature greyhounds, pleaded guilty to grand theft in connection with a 2002 arrest for stealing video game consoles from a store in San Bernardino County, according to published reports.
"I hate to use the word but he looked like a loner," Michele Thompson, who lives across the road from Sanchez's La Crescenta home, told the Los Angeles Daily News.
Other neighbors described Sanchez as reclusive. One said he once apologized to her for his unkempt dirt yard, saying he was doing some work inside the house, the newspaper reported.
Reporters from across the region and the nation went to the single-story bungalow Monday, looking for answers in the wake of Friday's 4:22 p.m. crash.
Sanchez started working for Metrolink under contract in 1996 when he was an Amtrak employee. Most recently, he was worked for Paris-based Veolia and was a contract engineer with Metrolink
Train buffs Evan Morrison and Nick Williams, both 14, said they were text-messaging Sanchez just before the accident near Chatsworth. In a message apparently sent in the same minute the collision occurred, Sanchez tells one youth he would be meeting another passenger train: "yea ... usually @ north camarillo," according to The New York Times.
Investigators said they had not yet recovered Sanchez's mobile device but were making progress, seeking records directly from the phone company.
So far in the investigation, no problems have been found in any mechanical or electronic systems. National Transportation Safety Board investigations of train wrecks can sometimes take a year or longer.
Tuesday Morning Updates
Investigators say tests at the site of Friday's deadly Metrolink train crash showed the signals are working properly and there were no obstructions that may have prevented the engineer from seeing the red light. The National Transportation Safety Board says the commuter train rolled past stop signals at 42 mph and forced its way onto a track where a Union Pacific freight was barreling toward it.
Federal investigators also have subpoenaed records to determine whether the Metrolink engineer was text messaging before the crash. The president of the California Public Utilities Commission says he will ask the commission on Thursday for an emergency order banning train operators from using cell phones.
The rail line at the site of the Chatsworth collision remains closed at least until Wednesday.
More legal claims, which are technical precursors to lawsuits, are expected to be filed against Metrolink. The first was filed Monday by the family of 19-year-old Aida Magdaleno, a student at Cal State Northridge who was killed. The claim said the crash could have been avoided if Metrolink installed an automatic braking system that would override engineers in the case of an imminent collision.