CORONA — Four railway crew members were killed and two others were injured Wednesday when a westbound freight train veered into an eastbound freight before dawn, igniting a spectacular inferno, according to authorities and witnesses.
The deaths occurred about 4:10 a.m. when the westbound train--for reasons that remain under investigation--left a side track at 30 m.p.h. and collided with the slow-moving Chicago-bound freight, according to Michael A. Martin, a spokesman for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co.
"We know what happened--the westbound train didn't stop," said Delbert M. Miller, an investigator for Santa Fe. "But we're not sure why."
The entire crew of the westbound train--an engineer, a conductor and a woman brake operator--died. On the eastbound train, only the brakeman was killed, Martin said. The crash occurred in an industrial area of Corona, a Riverside County suburb about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Officials declined to identify the dead, all of whom were said to be Southern California residents, pending notification of family members. Both trains were operated by the Santa Fe company.
The two crew members on the eastbound train who survived were taken to area hospitals.
James Dawson, 50, the engineer, was in fair condition with a broken knee and head cuts at Riverside General Hospital, nursing supervisor Jane Dolan said. Warren Sanders, 51, the conductor, was in good condition with a broken ankle at Corona Community Hospital, according to nursing supervisor Kathy Stephens.
Emergency officials in Corona were monitoring a natural gas pipeline and a crude oil line seven feet beneath the crash site.
"At this point it is felt they are both stable and not affected," said Corona Police Sgt. Tim Slane.
In May, 1989, four people died in San Bernardino, 24 miles from Wednesday's accident, when a runaway Southern Pacific freight crashed. Thirteen days later, a natural gas pipeline damaged by the train wreck exploded, killing six people, injuring dozens more and damaging or destroying 29 homes.