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Hero in one crash, victim in next

Gregory Lintner, a Glendale survivor, died on Metrolink 111.

September 16, 2008|Ari B. Bloomekatz, Victoria Kim and Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writers

Three years ago, Gregory Lintner walked away with only scrapes and bruises from a Metrolink train crash in Glendale that killed 11 people. One woman, bloodied and badly injured, called the Army veteran a "hero" for staying by her side as they waited for emergency crews to arrive.

He was OK, Lintner told everyone afterward. He continued riding the train.

Then on Friday, the unthinkable happened.

Lintner, 48, was once again caught in a deadly Metrolink accident. This time, he was among the 25 people killed when their commuter train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train.

"Last time, my husband came back," his wife, Michelle, said in an interview Monday in her native Korean, her eyes red from sobbing. "It doesn't make sense that I can't touch him anymore."

At least three people who survived the Glendale crash in 2005 were on Metrolink 111 when it crashed Friday afternoon.

Willie Castro, 67, of Simi Valley had made a vow to himself after living through the 2005 crash:

"I said after that, I am never going to ride the train again," he said.

But there he was last week, sitting not far from the wreck in Chatsworth -- his leg feeling like it was broken after two men had carried him out of the train.

Richard Myles, 58, a supervisor with the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, had been more sanguine. "I thought, 'That'll never happen again,' " he said as he recovered from surgery at a Los Angeles hospital.

Still, he bargained with fate, trying to make sure he always sat in the last car, which he thought would be safer -- a practice he broke last week because the train was too crowded.

And then there was Lintner.

In the moments after the Glendale crash in 2005, he remained with an injured passenger, Patti Hudson of Idyllwild, reassuring her that help was on the way. "He said, 'Don't worry. I'm going to stay with you,' " recalled Hudson, who referred to Lintner as "a real hero." Of the 11 killed in that crash, eight were in their car.

Lintner continued to stay in touch with his fellow passengers, meeting occasionally with other survivors. He carried newspaper clippings about the Glendale crash and closely followed the criminal trial of the man who caused the accident by parking his truck on the railroad tracks. He couldn't put it behind him, his family said.

"He told me he never got off that train," Michelle Lintner said.

It was only recently that her husband began showing signs of coming out of what she called his emotional "coma."

For about a month after the Glendale crash, Lintner wondered whether it was a good idea to take the train again. But his family said he enjoyed riding the train because of the sense of community he forged with other passengers and the time it afforded him to catch up on his reading. So he decided to continue taking it to work.

But Michelle didn't like it when her husband started meeting with other survivors of the crash. She said it was unhealthy because she thought the group talked more about the crash than about healing from it.

She worried he wouldn't get over the accident. She recalled how he would have an "allergic"- type reaction whenever he saw images of the crash on television. She said he carried with him a newspaper clipping with a photo of Juan Manuel Alvarez, the man convicted of first-degree murder for causing the crash.

"I don't know" why he carried the photograph, she said. "Hate, probably. Because that changed his life."

At meetings with other survivors, Hudson said, Lintner talked proudly about his 15-year-old son, Andrew, a rabid Angels fan like his dad. They would go to as many games as possible each summer.

A pitcher in a prep league, Andrew would practice with his father in a field behind their house in Simi Valley. They enjoyed taking trips together to baseball stadiums throughout the nation.

One of the trips was to Wrigley Field in Chicago, a few hours' drive from where Lintner grew up in Beardstown, Ill., family members said. Souvenirs from their trips were kept in a glass case in the house.

Lintner had met Michelle in college. He helped her with English and showed her his lecture notes. She realized she was in love when she went on a 10-day trip to New York and missed him dearly. A year before graduation, he asked for her hand in marriage. He treated her like a queen, she said.

"We didn't have money or nothing, but we just married," she said. "I thought that would be my life, forever with him."

After the 2005 crash, Lintner often tried to hide his pain from his wife and son. He joked as he showed his family the dark bruises that marked the left side of his body. There were also bursts of anger, but then Lintner would immediately put on a happy face when his son walked into the room.

"He lied a lot to me," Michelle said, "because I wanted to be back to normal."

--

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

victoria.kim@latimes.com

hector.becerra@latimes.com

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