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Southern Pacific to Face Sixth Charge Alleging It Blocked Streets With Trains

July 30, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

The district attorney's office has filed a sixth misdemeanor charge of illegally blocking an intersection against Southern Pacific Transportation Co. for a train stoppage in Pico Rivera.

The latest tieup, the charge says, blocked four main north-south streets for 38 minutes during morning rush hour earlier this month.

Five counts of the same charge were filed against Southern Pacific in late May for five train stoppages in Pico Rivera and Whittier that occurred in the last nine months. Southern Pacific's arraignment has been delayed three times in Whittier Municipal Court from the original date of June 30, and the company is now scheduled to enter a plea on Monday. Each count carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and a year in jail the people responsible.

The first delay was granted after Southern Pacific lawyers said the company had not been properly notified of the charges and another continuance was granted because the company's attorney had a scheduling conflict. A representative of Southern Pacific did not show up for the latest arraignment on July 24 and the judge continued the case to Monday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Rob Miller said.

"There certainly can't be indefinite continuances," Miller said. "We're anxious to get the ball rolling. . . . I think that both the judge and our office are getting pretty annoyed."

Warrant May Be Sought

If a Southern Pacific representative does not show up Monday, the district attorney's office may ask the court to issue a bench warrant against the company or cite its lawyers for contempt of court, Miller said. A bench warrant resembles an arrest warrant and is issued when a defendant fails to appear in court, he said.

Miller said Southern Pacific has only one attorney in the Los Angeles area who makes court appearances, and that lawyer was unable to make it to court last week. John Tierney, a spokesman for Southern Pacific, said he was unfamiliar with the case and could not comment.

The sixth count against Southern Pacific was filed last week for a July 8 stoppage in Pico Rivera lasting from 7:38 to 8:17 a.m., said Sgt. Sam Patrick of the Pico Rivera Sheriff's Station. Police reported that children were seen crawling between the train cars to cross the tracks that morning, he said.

"When you see some kid trying to drag his bicycle over the coupler and he's got two hands on his bicycle, all it takes is just one little jerk and the kid's under the wheels," Patrick said. "It's really dangerous."

Emergency Vehicles Blocked

The stoppages also could prevent emergency vehicles from responding to calls, Patrick said. If an emergency happened in south Pico Rivera, authorities would have to drive south on Interstate 605 to reach that area, Patrick said. Additionally, the stoppages in Pico Rivera have occurred around 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.--the busiest times of the day for traffic, Patrick said. So far, there have not been any injuries or deaths resulting from stoppages in the Southeast area, he said.

Of the incidents cited in the charges, the longest was the morning of April 29 in Pico Rivera, when a train stopped for 48 minutes and blocked north-south traffic through the city. Police reported that children also crossed the tracks during that stoppage.

A state Public Utilities Commission regulation prohibits trains from blocking intersections longer than 10 minutes unless there are mechanical problems or other unforeseeable causes. The rule applies only to trains that are standing or moving back and forth, not to trains traveling steadily in one direction.

Southern Pacific officials have said that delays are usually caused by train traffic congestion, signal problems or engine failure.

Southern Pacific pleaded no contest to six counts on the same charge in 1985 and was fined $6,000.

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