I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happenth to them all. — Ecclesiastes 9:11
On Wednesday, Jan. 26, in the predawn darkness, time and chance happenth to the passengers of two Metrolink trains traveling in opposite directions in suburban Los Angeles.
This convergence of time and chance placed these trains adjacent to each other as one of them, Metrolink 100, derailed and jackknifed, ripping into the second car of the other train, Metrolink 901. A parked, unoccupied Union Pacific train also was drawn into the encounter as it was also smashed into by Metrolink 100.
As I’m sure you’re aware, 11 people were killed in the crash, which left twisted wreckage strewn across a wide area. More than 180 others were injured, many severely.
The man who allegedly caused the crash by parking his Jeep Grand Cherokee on the tracks and then fleeing the vehicle just as the Metrolink 100 reached the grade crossing has been charged with 11 counts of murder.
Stories rise to the surface
Left in the wake of the twisted metal and disemboweled innards of the commuter trains are stories about the people who rode the train that day — some who emerged unscathed, others who were badly injured and the 11 others who died.
One of the fallen, Scott McKeown, sat in the lead car of Metrolink 100 because he was a train buff and liked to watch the engineer operate the controls. According to the Los Angeles Times, McKeown had been a member of the Glendale Model Railroad Club for 20 years. “He’d talk to the conductor, the engineers, the ticket man — anyone who shared his love of trains,” David Doan, his brother-in-law, told the newspaper.
Another of those killed in the crash was James Tutino, a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Unlike McKeown, Tutino only rode the train a few times a month. On the morning of the crash he also sat in the first car, along with some fellow deputies. He chose to ride the train that morning because his knee was bothering him and he didn’t want to work the clutch on his car through rain-delayed traffic.
Bruce Gray, who was the engineer of Metrolink 100, was among the survivors. He saw the turn signal of the Jeep on the tracks about a quarter-mile ahead and slammed on the emergency brakes. But the train was traveling approximately 70 mph and wasn’t going to stop in time. Knowing that his control compartment would probably be crushed by the Jeep, he ran back into the coach and began warning passengers of the impending crash.
Gray continued upstairs to the train’s upper level and yelled “Hang on!” Seconds later, the train plowed into the Jeep and derailed. Gray suffered five broken bones in his back.
Heartfelt message in wreckage
Another survivor, an aerospace worker named John Phipps, was pulled from the wreckage, but used his own blood to scrawl messages on an overturned seat to his wife Leslie and his children before rescuers arrived. Phipps, who suffered head wounds and groin injuries, wrote “I love my kids” and “I love Leslie,” using hearts instead of the word “love.”
A photo of Phipps’ message was posted on the Internet and resulted in interviews with “Good Morning America” and “Inside Edition.” His story has provided the country with one of the positive stories to come out of the disaster. “Hallmark is never going to top this,” Phipps’ wife told the media.
Underlying the cold facts of this catastrophe are hundreds of stories — overwhelmingly tragic, uplifting and everything in between — about people who use public transportation.