At 6:20 a.m. on May 26, Bean was traveling south when a van slipped around a crossing barrier. Bean, 45, leaned on the horn and hit the emergency brake. "That's all you can do," he said. He thought he was going to die in the wreck, which he could see coming.
The train punched into the middle of the van on the passenger side. "It just literally wrapped around the front of the train," Bean said. "I thought it was going to crush the whole front end of the train. I thought, 'This is it.' "
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 18, 1993 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Train engineers--A story on train accidents in Wednesday's Times misstated the number of engineers who work for Metrolink and the Blue Line. There are 16 Metrolink engineers and 65 Blue Line operators.
The van driver hurtled through the van's windshield and lay crumpled and bleeding on the ground. Although the driver survived, Bean was overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness.
"After impact, you just sit there, that's what makes you a victim--you are a victim of their negligence," Bean said. "There's a helplessness. You can't divert the train, you can't steer around the van. . . . You remain a victim of things like this for a long time. It just eases off after a while."
Another Blue Line operator, Eugene Keyes, hit a pickup truck making a left turn in front of his train, which was traveling at 35 m.p.h on a Saturday morning last year.
"This one guy, it was just me and him," said Keyes, shaking his head. "His eyes just got huge. He had this look like 'I'm going to die'. . . . I hit him. All I saw was his eyes--the fear."
The train smashed into the truck's rear wheel. Although the truck was damaged, the driver slowly drove away.
Unlike police officers, who are usually taken off the streets for a time after a shooting, Metrolink engineers and Blue Line operators are not required to take time off after an accident. They are, however, offered counseling--by a psychiatrist for Blue Line operators and employee counselors for Metrolink engineers.
But most engineers say a train accident is an experience that only other engineers can understand, and thus they often turn to each other for support.
"No one understands better than someone who has gone through it," said Steve FitzGerald, a spokesman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. He said most turn to a spouse or another engineer, and a few leave the railroad industry altogether.
Metrolink engineer Ken Clanahan had the misfortune of being at the controls in two fatal Metrolink accidents.
On Nov. 25, Clanahan's train, traveling 77 m.p.h., hit a dump truck at an unmarked crossing in Pacoima. The driver, Jaime Farias, 37, was pronounced dead at the scene.
In the second accident, Apolinar Arellano, 32, of Sun Valley, was struck Feb. 3 as he sat on the tracks near San Fernando Road in Sun Valley. Clanahan reported seeing five men on the tracks, apparently drinking alcohol. When he blew the train whistle, four stepped off the tracks but Arellano remained.
Clanahan declined to be interviewed, but at the Metrolink maintenance yard the day after his latest accident, he somberly described the incident to fellow engineers and Metrolink conductors, recounting that the body was thrown so far from the tracks that it was some time before it was found under a pickup truck 250 feet away.
The other engineers nodded and offered a sympathetic ear. He thanked them quietly and walked off.
Stokes, an engineer for nine years, said most engineers feel more anger than sympathy for pedestrians and motorists who cross in front of a speeding train.
"The people who run the gates do not have the right to jeopardize my life and the life of my passengers," he said.
But the greatest difficulty, engineers say, is coping with the feeling of helplessness that comes at the time of the accident. They point out that an engineer can do little to avoid pulverizing a motorist or pedestrian who winds up on the tracks in front of a speeding train. A 6,000-ton train traveling 60 m.p.h takes up to 1 1/2 miles to come to a stop, they say.
"If someone wants to cross a track in front of a train and they misjudge the timing, there is nothing the engineer can do except watch the scene unfold," FitzGerald said.
James High, a psychiatrist who has worked with several Blue Line operators involved in traumatic accidents, said the aftereffects include sleeplessness, extreme agitation, withdrawal and flashbacks of the crash.
Physical afflictions may include stomach problems, headaches, sweaty palms, heart palpitations and sore muscles, he said.
Most often the operators will continue to relive the accident to try to figure out what they could have done differently, he said.
"One factor that makes something more damaging is the fact that it happens out of our control and in effect bursts the bubble of believing that we have control of our lives," he said.
O'Connell agreed: "Have you ever hit a dog while driving a car?" he asked. "That is the helpless feeling you get when you hit someone. Then you think about what you hit."