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11 taken to hospitals after Blue Line train hits firetruck

About 250 rush-hour commuters were aboard when accident occurred at Washington and Central, a `notorious bad intersection.'

December 23, 2006|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Ten passengers and a firefighter were taken to hospitals for minor injuries Friday evening when a Blue Line commuter train struck a firetruck on an emergency call near downtown Los Angeles, authorities said.

The ladder truck and its crew were crossing Washington Boulevard at Central Avenue about 5 p.m. when the accident occurred, police and fire officials said.

"It looks like a big oops," said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Jeff Tepich, who was on the scene. "If [the train] is pulling a lot of weight even at a slow speed it's hard to stop."

The six-car train, which was carrying passengers from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach, struck the center of the ladder truck and derailed, blocking both tracks. The truck was on its way to a small fire; a second engine was sent in its place.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the train operator had a green light when she proceeded into the intersection and did not see or hear the firetruck, which had its lights and sirens on.

"She said she did not hear the firetruck, but when she saw it in the intersection she used the emergency brake," spokesman Dave Sotero said.

"It is a notorious bad intersection," Assistant Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said.

In response to several fatal collisions along the Blue Line route, flashing yellow signs have been added to warn motorists turning right on Washington to watch for the crossing train. No such warnings have been installed on Central.

The collision is under investigation, but Tepich said the train has the right of way, especially when the light is red.

"Our policy is to come to a complete stop at all red lights and stop signs before entering an intersection," Terrazas said.

The train, which was traveling in an area with a speed limit of 35 mph, was carrying about 250 rush-hour commuters, he said. City Fire Department personnel said they assessed about 25 passengers for mostly minor injuries at the scene.

The injured firefighter was working as the apparatus operator, steering the long truck from the rear. After the crash, he complained of back and neck pain, Terrazas said.

The tracks were closed in both directions for more than three hours while officials investigated the crash and removed debris.

The firetruck was towed, and the train, with a crushed front windshield, was pushed back onto the tracks.

Dozens of commuters walked down Central Avenue in the dark between the San Pedro and Washington stations, where transit service began and ended. Additional buses were added to bridge the service interruption, Sotero said.

Under MTA policy, the driver was required to be tested for possible drug and alcohol use.

jean.guccione@latimes.com

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