February 25, 2015 / 5:40 PM / 5 years ago

Truck driver in California train crash had DUI conviction: L.A. Times

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The truck driver arrested in a rail crash that injured 50 people in California had been cited for multiple driving violations in his home state of Arizona, including a 1998 conviction for driving under the influence, the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday.

A police officer stands at the scene of a double-decker Metrolink train derailment in Oxnard, California February 24, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, was found walking and “in distress” more than a mile from the accident on Tuesday and was later taken into custody on suspicion of felony hit-and-run for leaving the scene, police said.

Ventura County prosecutors said they expected to file formal charges against Ramirez on Thursday before his initial court appearance. A spokeswoman for that office said she could not confirm any previous violations.

The crash in Oxnard, about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles, flipped over three double-decker Metrolink rail cars and derailed two others. It tore apart the Ford pickup truck that Ramirez apparently abandoned on the tracks after making a wrong turn in the pre-dawn darkness.

The crash took place where the Metrolink tracks cross busy Rice Avenue, which is used by a steady stream of trucks.

The crossing was a known transportation hazard and the scene of a fatal accident as recently as last year, raising questions about why a highway overpass has not been built.

Four people, including the operator of the Los Angeles-bound train, remained in critical condition overnight.

Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites said on Tuesday the driver had undergone unspecified tests at a hospital and that investigators were looking into the possibility that drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash.

The Los Angeles Times said on Wednesday the truck driver had a history of vehicle infractions in Arizona, including pleading guilty in 1998 to violations including driving with a blood alcohol content above the state’s legal limit.

He also pleaded guilty to failure to obey a police officer, having liquor with a “minor on the premises” and having no insurance.

In 2004, Ramirez was convicted of a driving infraction in Yuma, Arizona and was cited for failure to obey a traffic control device in 2007, the newspaper said.

An attorney representing Ramirez, Ron Bamieh, scheduled a press conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss the case.

Bamieh told the Ventura County Star newspaper that Ramirez, who had been driving his employer’s truck, “tried to do all he could” to move the vehicle before the crash.

Bamieh said Ramirez ran for help following the impact but did not immediately call authorities because he was in shock and speaks only Spanish.

A National Transportation Safety Board member has said Ramirez’ heavy-duty pickup truck appeared to have traveled about 80 feet (24 meters) down the tracks before being hit by the train in the fiery pre-dawn accident.

Metrolink officials said full service was scheduled to resume on Thursday afternoon on the agency’s Ventura County line after repairs to the damaged tracks.

Reporting by Daniel Wallis and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and James Dalgleish

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