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MTA Train Hits Car, Killing Woman

A passenger in the vehicle dies and 14 people are injured in the accident at a Watts intersection, the scene of previous fatal crashes.

March 02, 2004|Arlene Martinez and Kevin pang | Times Staff Writers

A motorist turned into the path of an MTA Blue Line train at a Watts intersection Monday, killing one of the car's occupants and injuring 14 people.

The most seriously injured were traveling in the 2003 Honda Civic, including the 45-year-old driver, who was listed in critical condition at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. A boy in the back seat sustained minor injuries and was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Nine passengers aboard the train were sent to nearby hospitals for minor neck and back injuries. Three others on the train were treated at the scene. Sara Silvia Tovar, 48, was pronounced dead at the accident site.

Authorities said the car attempted to turn left onto southbound Wilmington Avenue from Willowbrook Avenue about 8 a.m. when the train, traveling about 50 mph, struck the passenger side of the vehicle.

The car then hit an MTA power pole, knocking down one of its support beams.

The car was pushed alongside the rails until it came to rest next to the train, about 200 feet from the site of the collision.

Los Angeles police spokesman Capt. Terry Hara said investigators believe the motorist was at fault because left turns are not allowed onto Wilmington Avenue from Willowbrook Avenue.

"The car wasn't on the correct side of the street, it was in the middle," Hara said.

Residents say drivers -- as well as pedestrians -- are careless while crossing the tracks.

"I've seen it so many times.... They don't pay attention to the trains," said Harlem Tigerino, who lives on Willowbrook Avenue.

"Once the guard rails come down [drivers] don't know whether to go back or front."

Tigerino and other witnesses said he heard the warning sounds of the crossing gate lowering and moments later heard a loud impact.

The 22-mile Blue Line runs from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles.

Including Monday's fatality, 22 occupants of vehicles and 43 pedestrians have been killed along the Blue Line since it began operating in 1990, making it the deadliest of the MTA's four rail routes.

Ten accidents have occurred at the Wilmington intersection alone, including five fatalities, said Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Rick Jager.

"The corridor has been particularly difficult for us. There are a lot of different exits and intersections," Jager said. "We've worked with the city to erect more signage."

Still, there are several other intersections along the route that have recorded significantly more accidents than the Wilmington intersection, including Venice Boulevard with 30 vehicular accidents, San Pedro Street with 23 accidents and 20th Street in Long Beach with 20 accidents.

Before 1990, slow-moving freight trains used the tracks, Jager said, and people may not realize that the Blue Line trains are moving up to 55 mph.

This is the third accident on the Blue Line this year, but the first involving a fatality.

The accident caused disruptions to MTA Blue Line service between the 103rd Street and Imperial/Wilmington stations during the busy Monday morning period. Jager said passengers experienced 30-minute delays when they were bused around the accident scene and transferred to another train.

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