Mayor Norris Poulson attacked the railway, blaming the engineer's blackout on his age -- 61 -- and accusing the company of allowing "the oldest men to run the fastest trains."
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers shot back that competence should be measured by ability, not age.
Finally, the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled that Parrish had been in poor health before the accident, with tuberculosis and ulcers. He had been out on disability, having returned to the rails just four months earlier.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 08, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
1956 train crash -- The L.A. Then and Now column in Sunday's California section reported that the train involved in a fatal crash in 1956 consisted of two passenger cars and a locomotive. There was no locomotive; the two cars were self-propelled and controlled by the crew from within the cars.
Some psychiatrists suggested that he might have suffered from a memory disorder in which he blocked out an incident too awful to remember. Other medical experts found that he'd had a seizure, possibly a stroke or epilepsy, that sent his hand into a spasmodic grip and made it impossible for him to release the throttle and slow the train.
After a Times editorial castigated Police Chief William Parker and the LAPD's mishandling of the disaster, the City Council called for an investigation.
Rep. Patrick Hillings, the Republican who had replaced Richard Nixon in Congress, asked the FBI to look into reports that "bona fide newsmen were manhandled and prevented from doing their job by the police."
The FBI found that the LAPD's attempts to protect the scene had generated even more pandemonium. Officers tied a reporter to a tree, the FBI found, and assaulted a photographer, purposely breaking his camera.
In response, Parker created the LAPD's press relations unit.
Victims and relatives sued the railroad, which settled 168 cases for about $30 million. The five orphaned Fenn children received more than $100,000. Parrish's wife, who had been slightly injured, got $7,500.
Parrish himself sued for $320,000 -- demanding back pay, alleging that equipment had been poorly maintained and citing previous braking problems with this type of rail car. A federal judge threw out his suit, along with that of his fireman, saying "they were responsible for the wreck" and noting that evidence had failed to show any mechanical failure of the brakes.
As for the orphans, most found homes with relatives.
The five Fenn children were adopted by Lloyd and Helen Lee of Bonita, who had a 23-acre ranch in San Diego County and two boys of their own. The Lees weren't related to the Fenns but said they wanted the children to stay together, rather than being parceled out among relatives.