The driver whose truck was struck by a commuter train after he left it at a Southern California rail crossing, resulting in a crash that injured nearly 30 people, will not face charges at this time, according to the Ventura County District Attorney's office.
The announcement came Thursday when Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Arizona, was scheduled to be arraigned. He was taken into custody after the crash, which critically injured four people, Tuesday before dawn on the Ventura County Line tracks between Camarillo and Oxnard, about 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Prosecutors released a statement indicating that they are waiting for results of the crash investigation before making a decision.
"The ongoing investigation of this matter is complex and involves numerous local and federal agencies including the District Attorney’s Office, Oxnard Police Department, and the National Traffic Safety Board," the DA's office said in a statement. "The District Attorney must await the completion of this investigation before making a formal filing decision. While charges will not be filed at this time, the arrest of Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez by the Oxnard Police Department was clearly appropriate and lawful."
Sanchez Ramirez was released from custody Thursday, according to his attorney. He had been in custody since his arrest Tuesday about 45 minutes after the crash on suspicion of hit-and-run after he was found about a mile away from the derailment that left his burned truck mangled and three train cars on their sides.
His attorney said Wednesday that Sanchez Ramirez accidentally drove onto the tracks and made the situation worse by continuing forward in an attempt to gathered enough momentum to get the wide pickup over the rails. He also used his high-beam headlights in an effort to warn the oncoming Metrolink commuter train, which was bound for Los Angeles.
The heavy duty Ford F-450 truck, towing a trailer, straddled the tracks and Sanchez Ramirez could not back up because he was towing a trailer, attorney Ron Bamieh said. When his efforts to move the truck failed, he ran for help, Bamieh said.
But federal investigators who arrived in Oxnard Wednesday said the truck was not stuck on the tracks in the sense that it had bottomed out at the crossing. Investigators have not ruled out that the truck was somehow stranded and will attempt to determine why it traveled 80 feet down the tracks and remained there with its parking brake engaged.
"I don't think anybody would put a car or truck on... railroad tracks and not try to get it off if there's an approaching train," Sumwalt said.
Police claim Sanchez Ramirez did not call 911 and made no immediate effort to call for assistance. Authorities would not discuss drug and alcohol test results, but Bamieh said he was told there was no sign Ramirez was impaired.
"When someone goes through a huge trauma like that and not only thinking they almost died, but they think other people are dead and you don't know what to do and you're confused... what is a normal reaction to such an event?" Bamieh said.
Ramirez had a drunken driving conviction in Arizona in 1998 and a pair of traffic citations. Bamieh said the citations were minor and the DUI was too old to be relevant to the current circumstances.
A commuter train's on-board camera captured the fiery crash and might help investigators with effort to piece together the events that led to the derailment. The video, taken from the outward-facing camera on the front car of the Metrolink train, was sent back to the Washington home of the National Transportation Safety Board for analysis, board member Robert Sumwalt said.