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METROLINK COLLISION

25 linked forever by fate

September 21, 2008|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

Coasting out of Chatsworth at 4:22 p.m., Doyle Souser had caught an early train home from work to cook his family a nice tri-tip for dinner. Charles Peck had just wrapped up an interview for a job he hoped would land him in Southern California so he could marry his fiancee. Aida Magdaleno, a farmworker's daughter studying at Cal State Northridge, was on her way home to attend her nephew's baptism.

They didn't know one another. Their only connection came when they boarded the first car of Metrolink 111 that afternoon.

But a minute later, the far-flung threads of their lives would be forever tied off in a knot in the wreckage of California's worst train accident in modern history.

In that instant, the cold rules of physics, or the mystery of fate, claimed a variegated slice of humanity as perhaps only a disaster can do and left a scattershot pattern of emotional wounds far and wide.

Students and faculty at Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Glendale grappled with the loss of their beloved head counselor, Ron Grace, 55, the heart and soul of the school. One parent, Emma Villalobos, said, "My kids had an angel named Mr. Grace."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 18, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 109 words Type of Material: Correction
Metrolink victims: The profile in Tuesday's California section of Doyle Souser, who died in the Metrolink train collision, said a memorial service would be held Friday. The service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Camarillo Community Church, 1322 Las Posas Road, Camarillo. A memorial fund has been established and checks made out to "Doyle Souser Memorial Fund" can be mailed to 2408 Paseo Noche, Camarillo, CA 93012. A profile in Monday's Section A of another victim, Yi Chao of Simi Valley, gave his age as 72. He was 71. A profile in Sunday's Section A of Michael Hammersley, who also died in the crash, spelled his name Hammersly.

At Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, they mourned English teacher Paul Long, 54, who was traveling home from his mother's funeral with his wife and son when the crash occurred. Long was airlifted to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. The next day, doctors removed him from life support.

"He was a gentle and humble friend with such a warm heart unmatched by many," wrote one of his students, Matthew Slaven, in an online memorial. "I remember his smile, his joy. His love for us kids was unmatched. He genuinely cared. To this very day, more than any other teacher, I thank God that I had the privilege of having Mr. Long as my teacher."

The head-on collision with a Union Pacific freight train on a bend in Chatsworth punched the Metrolink's locomotive right into the first car. At least 22 of the 24 passengers killed in the Sept. 12 crash -- the engineer also died -- were riding in that car, according to the coroner's office.

One was Gregory Lintner, 48, who survived the fatal Metrolink crash in Glendale in 2005 but never got over it. With him he carried a photo of Juan Manuel Alvarez, the man convicted of murder for causing the crash. His wife said he always tried to hide his pain from her and their 15-year-old son.

Nearby Dean Brower, 51, an Army veteran working at a water treatment plant, had a busy evening ahead of him. He had to pick up his developmentally disabled son, Bill, 20, at the family music store in Ventura and then drive to Port Hueneme to pick up his adopted son Armando, 22, at his transitional living facility. Brower's generosity was such that four years ago he jumped at adopting Armando, who was in foster care. "He didn't have a moment's hesitation," said his wife, Kim. "His heart just bled for Armando not having a family."

In that same doomed carriage, there were young people striking out on their own. Jacob Hefter, 18, was a star student at Palmdale High starting his freshman year at Cal State Long Beach. Chen-Wyuan Kari Hsieh, 18, was a beaming senior and varsity tennis player at Hart High School in Newhall. Maria Elena Villalobos, 18, was a budding fashion designer with big plans, riding home to Moorpark from class at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles. And Atul Vyas, 20, was already interviewing for grad school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Although the Claremont McKenna College student was of Indian descent, he was inducted into the Latino club at school because "they loved him so much," said his father, Vijay Vyas. "He was a very popular kid."

There were grandfathers whose youthful ambitions had given way to the gentle love of family. Dennis Arnold, 75, gave up a promising folk music career in the 1960s because he didn't want to be on the road all the time, away from his wife, Maria, and young daughter and son. He became an aerospace engineer and worked on his final day. Arnold loved nothing more than Sunday dinner with Maria, his adult children and their families.

Yi Chao, 72, survived the killing fields in Cambodia and adored his 5-year-old grandson, who woke up every day and went into Chao's room. Friday, Chao was taking the train home to Simi Valley after an eye doctor appointment in Los Angeles. It took more than a day for his family to find out he had been killed.

Howard Pompel, 69, hopped on the train after work at the Los Angeles City Employees Club. He normally took a later train but cut out early to play pool with a family friend. "He wore his heart on his sleeve," said his daughter, Annette Conway. "He loved to make people laugh."

The montage of human loss is so wide that the figures mostly get painted in single brush strokes.

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