Sunday, January 19, 1992

Blue Line Kills 2 in Compton Accident that Sheared a Car in Half

Blue Line Section Reopens After Fatal Weekend Crash

Los Angeles Times
January 20, 1992

A three-mile stretch of the Metro Blue Line was reopened Sunday evening, after a weekend collision in Compton that derailed a northbound train and sheared a car in half, killing its passenger, officials said.

Service was restored shortly after 7 p.m., said Greg Davy, Southern California Rapid Transit District spokesman. He said trains will have to slow down at the accident site because of a missing power pole. Otherwise, the schedule will not be affected, he said.

On Sunday, Blue Line passengers were shuttled by bus from Del Amo Boulevard to Imperial Highway, adding about 20 minutes to their travel time, an RTD spokesman said.

Police said Saturday's collision occurred when Johnny Carl Hagler, 47, of Long Beach tried to speed around a crossing gate to beat the train. Hagler was in serious condition Sunday at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center with multiple fractures.

His 43-year-old passenger, a Lynwood woman whose name was withheld pending notification of relatives, was killed instantly, officials said. One of the 53 passengers aboard the Blue Line suffered minor injuries.

Compton Police Sgt. William Wallace said Sunday that investigators are awaiting results of blood tests performed after the accident to determine if Hagler was intoxicated. If so, Hagler could face charges of felony drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter, Wallace said.

1 Dead, 2 Injured in Crash of Car, Blue Line Train

Los Angeles Times
By Greg Krikorian and Edmund Newton
January 19, 1992

A Metro Blue Line train derailed in Compton on Saturday afternoon after colliding with a car that tried to speed around a crossing gate, authorities said. The collision sheared the car in half, killing its passenger and critically injuring its driver.

Only one of the 53 passengers aboard the northbound train was hurt and police described her injuries as minor.

Authorities said the 3:36 p.m. accident occurred when a 1980 Chevrolet Chevette traveling east on Manville Street reached the grade crossing at Willowbrook Avenue at the same time as a northbound Blue Line train moving at 55 m.p.h.

Although the crossing gates were down, the driver of the car started to cross the tracks, according to Compton Police Sgt. William Wallace. The train hit the car, dragging it 150 feet.

The car was torn apart as it was pulled along, leaving part of its drivetrain next to the tracks and pieces of metal strewn to the sides. A ball of crumpled metal lay at the front of the train, where the first of two rail cars jumped the tracks, blocking the southbound line.

The unidentified male driver and female passenger were ejected on impact, Wallace said, and were taken by Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics to Long Beach Memorial Hospital. There, the woman, believed to be about 35, was pronounced dead and her male companion, said to be about 40, was listed in critical condition with numerous fractures and internal injuries.

No charges were filed against the driver, but Wallace said an investigation of the accident is under way. "We have information that the driver was possibly under the influence of alcohol and if that is substantiated, appropriate charges will be filed," he said.

Since the Blue Line opened in July, 1990, its light-rail trains have been involved in 37 collisions and six deaths. This was the first time one of the Long Beach-to-Los Angeles trains derailed, a spokesman for the commuter line said.

"Unfortunately, all of the fatalities have involved people who were attempting to get around the crossing gates as a train approached," RTD spokesman Jim Smart said.

After Saturday's accident, the shaken passengers were held for interviews by authorities only a few feet from the wreckage of the car.

"It felt like an earthquake," said Charles Smith, 16, of Long Beach, who was riding in the second car, where several passengers described a scene of panic after the crash.

Rhonda McCurthon, 15, of Lynwood and her friend Andrea Simpson, 16, of Los Angeles said they and other passengers in the train's second car rushed for the emergency doors after the crash. "Everyone was scared," Simpson said.

But two passengers in the first rail car that struck the vehicle described a different scene. Jobie Gayer, 38, of Wilmington and Marisa DeSimone, 28, of Santa Monica said they and others remained calm after being reassured by the train's conductor, Mike Martinez, that "everything was OK."

After the crash, they said, Martinez ran to aid the two people in the car.

Gayer and DeSimone said this was their first trip on the Blue Line. "We decided we should take a trip on it," DeSimone said.

The four law enforcement agencies that patrol along the Blue Line's 22-mile route-the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and police from Los Angeles, Compton and Long Beach-have engaged in a high-profile safety campaign to discourage motorists from trying to beat the trains at grade crossings.

The trains often reach speeds of 55 m.p.h., authorities say.

After the accident, a three-mile stretch of the Blue Line from Del Amo Boulevard to Imperial Highway was shut down. Passengers were transported around the affected area by bus.

RTD spokesman Bill Heard said late Saturday that officials hope to have the closed stretch of the Blue Line reopened for service by noon today. In the meantime, he said, RTD will use buses to transfer passengers through the area.