April 19, 2024 7:19 pm

Metrolink Crash Murder Case Returns to Lower Court

A state appellate court panel has directed further proceedings in a Los Angeles court regarding the re-sentencing request for an individual who parked his SUV on railroad tracks at the Glendale-Los Angeles border, causing a fatal Metrolink train derailment. The incident resulted in the deaths of 11 individuals and left more than 180 others injured.

California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal, represented by a three-justice panel, overturned Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen’s previous ruling from July 2022, which denied Juan Manuel Alvarez’s plea for re-sentencing. The case has been remanded for “further proceedings.”

The appellate court panel, in a 22-page ruling, emphasized that the petition cannot be resolved solely at the prima facie stage based on Alvarez’s convictions.

During the July 2022 hearing, Judge Coen had determined Alvarez as the “actual killer,” rendering him ineligible for re-sentencing under a recent change in state law impacting the convictions and sentences of certain murder cases.

Alvarez, a former resident of Compton, was sentenced in August 2008 to 11 consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole after being found guilty of 11 counts of first-degree murder stemming from the January 26, 2005, crash on the railroad tracks in Glendale. Jurors affirmed the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders.

Additionally, Alvarez was convicted of arson for dousing his green Jeep Cherokee Sport with gasoline and leaving it on the tracks. He was acquitted of a train-wrecking charge, and a special circumstance allegation related to the murders occurring during a train-wrecking was rejected by jurors.

During his trial, Alvarez, a former construction worker and father of two, testified over four days, expressing his intention to commit suicide by parking his vehicle around 6 a.m. that day. However, he claimed to have changed his mind but failed to move the SUV off the tracks in time.

Prosecutors contended that Alvarez, then 26, intended to create a disaster to draw attention from his estranged wife.

The collision occurred when Metrolink train No. 100, heading south to Union Station, collided with Alvarez’s vehicle and subsequently crashed into northbound Metrolink train No. 901 at the Glendale-Los Angeles city line. The collision also involved a Union Pacific freight train locomotive, resulting in significant damage.

The crash claimed the lives of 11 individuals, including train conductor Tom Ormiston and sheriff’s Deputy James Tutino.

At his sentencing, then-Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders expressed disdain towards Alvarez, stating that if there were a sentence known as “forever,” he would impose it.

A state appeals court panel previously upheld Alvarez’s conviction, asserting that substantial evidence supported the train’s injury as a direct consequence of igniting the gasoline-drenched Jeep.

The appellate court panel also dismissed the defense’s arguments regarding the exclusion of expert testimony and alleged errors in jury instructions.

In 2012, the California Supreme Court declined to review Alvarez’s case.