51 passengers cheat death in fiery blast
51 people were injured Tuesday when a Los Angeles-bound commuter train smashed into a produce truck that had become stuck on the tracks, authorities said.
The stranded vehicle exploded into a fireball after being hit by the four passenger cars and the locomotive pushing the Metrolink train, officials said.
Three passenger coaches came to rest on their side after flying off the rails near Oxnard, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Los Angeles, a spokesman for Metrolink said.
A total of 48 passengers and three crew were on board the train when it crashed, at around 5:45 am (1345 GMT).
Twenty-eight people were hospitalized, with seven formally admitted for further treatment, officials told a press conference.
Patients were being treated for spinal injuries and multiple fractures, Ventura County Emergency Medical Service spokesman Steve Carroll said.
The 54-year-old driver of the truck -- which appeared to have been ripped into two by the impact - was found by police wandering around one mile from the crash site.
Initial reports had said police arrested the man after he had fled the scene.
However, Oxnard assistant police chief Jason Benites later told reporters the truck driver had not been formally detained.
"He's not under arrest," he said. "However, I can say we are looking into this with regard to any acts that may require a criminal investigation."
Benites said it was not clear why the driver had mistakenly turned right onto the tracks from an adjacent street.
"We're having discussions with the driver," he said, adding that the truck was "stuck" on the tracks.
Fire Department spokesman Joe Garces said the driver of the train had spotted the truck and had begun slowing down before the crash.
"We do not know yet the exact speed the train was traveling at impact but the emergency protocols had been initiated before the incident," Garces told KTLA television.
'Feeling of death'
A passenger on board the train told of panic as the train raced through the fireball caused by the explosion.
"As I was coming through the crossing I had a feeling of death come over me," Joel Bingham told KTLA.
"I thought 'Oh my god, we could die.'
"We went from 60 mph to a stop and we all lived. I can't believe it," he added.
The three toppled cars are reported to have been fitted with a crash energy management system, which prevents crumpling of the carriages by absorbing the force of impact. They remained intact after the accident.
A Metrolink spokesman said the engineer and conductor of the train were among those injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates serious rail, road and aviation accidents, wrote on Twitter that it would launch a probe into the train wreck.
Metrolink said on Twitter that train services has been suspended between Oxnard and the neighboring town of Camarillo.
It urged commuters to find other ways of getting to work.
"Please consider using alternate transportation. We are reaching out to bus agencies for assistance. Buses not available at this time," Metrolink tweeted.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Metrolink rail line, which has seen two multi-fatality crashes over the past decade, has made a renewed push to improve safety and restore public confidence.
In 2008, 25 people were killed when a Metrolink train crashed head on into a freight train in the Los Angeles district of Chatsworth, the deadliest accident in Metrolink's history.
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