Thursday, December 11, 1997

Blue Line at 5 mph Traps Compton Motorist in Wreckage

Driver Hospitalized in Crash With Train
Blue Line: Man is trapped in wreck for two hours after driving around crossing barriers

Los Angeles Times
By Doug Shuit
December 11, 1997

Rescuers worked for nearly two hours Wednesday to free a motorist trapped in the crumpled wreckage of his auto after it was hit by a Blue Line train as he tried to beat it through an intersection in Compton, authorities said.

The Los Angeles-bound commuter train was traveling at 5 mph when it struck a compact car driven by Ricardo Gonzalez, 25, of Lynwood, dragging the vehicle about 20 feet before stopping near a rail station at Compton Boulevard and Willowbrook Avenue. The auto came to rest wedged between the train and a train signal pole.

The wreckage was so tangled that Compton firefighters had to struggle for almost two hours to free Gonzalez after the 3:59 p.m. accident. He was immobile for a time, but could communicate with firefighters, who used hydraulic tools to cut him free.

Police said Gonzalez, who was taken to Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, suffered fractured legs in the accident. One of the estimated 200 passengers aboard the Blue Line train was slightly injured.

Gonzalez was headed west on Compton when he drove around the crossing barriers and was hit by the commuter train, authorities said.

"This accident didn't need to occur," Compton Police Capt. Steven Roller said, noting that the warning lights at the intersection were in working order.

Jesse J. Diaz, a manager with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the Blue Line, said: "Everybody has to understand that trains do not stop quickly, even at a slow rate of speed. Cars are no match for these trains."

An MTA spokeswoman said the situation was complicated by a Union Pacific freight train that was partially blocking the intersection at the time the Blue Line train approached. Several motorists grew impatient with the delay caused by the freight train and drove around the crossing barriers, MTA spokeswoman Marion MacKenzie said.

Gonzalez also tried to do this, but was hit by the commuter train, she said.

The accident not only snarled vehicular traffic in the area but also disrupted rail traffic, delaying Blue Line trains for several hours. MTA officials estimated that the train sustained $100,000 in damage.

Roller said Gonzalez could be cited for going into the intersection after the crossing barriers were lowered. A fine could range as high as $300.

Times staff writer George Ramos contributed to this story.