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ANGELS FLIGHT CRASH

A Crash, Then Eerie Silence

Victims: 'I closed my eyes and just waited to hit,' one injured passenger says.

February 02, 2001|OSCAR JOHNSON and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

At first Sid Carter thought it was a joke.

The financial analyst with Deloitte and Touche was riding up Angels Flight to get to his California Plaza office when the railway car, close to the top of Bunker Hill, suddenly flung backward.

"It just kind of jerked down," said the 39-year-old Venice resident. "It was like a clutch slipped."

Stunned, the passengers were silent as the car rushed down the track. All Carter could hear was the sound of the wheels rolling as he braced himself against a pole and hung on.

Unbelievable, he thought to himself.

"I closed my eyes and just waited to hit."

He heard the loud shriek of metal crumpling as his car slammed into the one below, tossing the passengers around the cabin.

When he opened his eyes, Carter saw an elderly man and woman at his feet, the woman bleeding profusely from her head, her eyes open. The man lay near her, moaning. The rest of the passengers picked themselves up, dazed. Carter, with bruised ribs his only injury, counted himself lucky.

The 83-year-old man, a New Jersey tourist identified later as Leon Praport, had a fractured pelvis and head and chest injuries. He died at County-USC Hospital about 7 p.m. Thursday. His wife, also in her 80s, suffered a skull fracture and chest injuries. She remained at County-USC in critical condition Thursday night.

Six others, including Carter, were treated at area hospitals.

Right after the collision, the atmosphere was strangely quiet inside the crushed cars as the passengers slowly struggled to decipher what had happened.

"No one was screaming or yelling," Carter said. "People were trying to sit up, take stock."

Diners in the Grand Central Market across the street from Angels Flight, startled by the violent crash, leapt to their feet. Many had seen one of the passengers fly through the open back door of the lower car and land, face-down, on the tracks. People screamed and dialed 911 on their cellular phones.

Juan Amezcua, 21, who was meeting a friend at the railway's top, said he heard the car suddenly descend. "It was faster than anything I would want to be on," Amezcua said.

Meanwhile, co-workers of some of the victims became uneasy when they did not return from their lunch hour.

One of the injured, a 40-year-old woman who works in an office near 7th Street and Figueroa, took Angels Flight every Friday to get lunch at the Grand Central Market, according to her sister. For some reason, this week, she decided to go on Thursday.

'She loved to take Angels Flight," said her sister, who spoke on condition of anonymity. When she didn't return from lunch Thursday, her sister became concerned.

Shortly after 1 p.m., a co-worker saw a news flash on the Internet about an accident on Angels Flight. The woman's sister became frantic. She and co-workers monitored television and the Internet. She started calling hospitals and discovered that her sister was in stable condition at Huntington Memorial Hospital.

She learned later that her sister had been riding in the top car, leaning backward against the wall. She suffered a deep gash near her temple that required stitches, a swollen ankle, and bruises and cuts "all over," her sister said outside.

"She's a little dazed and bruised all over," she said. "She's not too bad, no broken bones, thank God."

Four others--Carter, 45-year-old Jane Stockwell, an unidentified 56-year-old woman and an unidentified 36-year-old woman--were treated for minor injuries and trauma at local hospitals and released.

A 34-year-old man with head trauma and possible back injuries was in serious condition at County-USC Hospital.

Late Thursday, as he walked out of Good Samaritan Hospital with aching ribs, Carter felt grateful that he was one of the lucky passengers.

"It's kind of charming and quaint and you never think this would happen, at least when you're on it," he said.

From now on, he said, he's using the hillside stairs.

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