Ted Maloney usually drives past the same Ventura County rail crossing each day and hears the same familiar honking of the train engineer's horn.
But on Tuesday, Maloney said there was an urgency to the sound of the horn instead of the normal three honks before he heard screeching sounds and looked up to see a fireball.
"This guy was just laying on the horn," said Maloney. "I looked up and just a huge ball of fire. I didn't even see the truck because it was all engulfed in flames."
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A Metrolink train leaving Camarillo and bound of Los Angeles had just slammed into a truck on the tracks, injuring nearly 30 people and toppling cars off the track.
Maloney and three farmworkers who were in a nearby berry field ran to help the victims, he said. He entered the overturned car and found a woman suffering from a severe head injury and other victims who were standing on the windows, which had become the floor of the car after it flipped over.
"Everything was just tossed around," said Maloney. "The seats were all in place, but there were laptops laying around, jackets, coats laying around."
Maloney made a bandage out of a sweater and tried to provide medical aid for the injured woman before paramedics arrived, he said. Four of the victims were hospitalized in critical condition with head, neck and back injuries after the Los Angeles-bound train's derailment between Camarillo and Oxnard.
Keana Grey recalls being thrown from her seat when the train began to tip over.
“The train started jostling,” Grey said. “I could see the first car that was ahead of me already off the tracks and tilting to the left side. We were going to feel it next, that’s when the lights went out and we got thrown out of our seats.”
The truck driver, identified as Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Arizona, was arrested after running from the crash site, police said. He suffered minor injuries that were not related to the crash, police said.
Ramirez faces a charge of hit-and-run.
The train engineer was badly hurt in the crash. Metrolink flew his son from Temecula to the hospital. Doctors said the engineer, who was not identified, squeezed his hand.
Investigators are attempting to determine whether the truck was intentionally stopped on the tracks or whether the driver made a mistake, said Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites.
Authorities said a crash energy management system likely limited the number of injuries and might have prevented fatalities. To help absorb the impact of collisions, Metrolink has been introducing the crash-resistant cars that have specialized bumpers and so-called "crush zones" designed to collapse in crashes and protect passenger cars.
Three of the four passenger cars were equipped with the technology.
NBC4's Robert Kovacik contributed to this report.