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No time to prevent train from hitting truck in Oxnard, officials say

August 27, 2009 |  2:51 pm

Oxnard firefighters and dispatchers with the Union Pacific Railroad tried to warn a Metrolink train this morning as it sped toward a truck stopped on the tracks, but the train couldn't stop in time, officials said.

At 5:40 a.m. two firefighters were aiding the driver of the truck, who had been involved in an accident a few minutes earlier, when the warning gates came down and they saw the train coming, said Deborah O'Malia, a spokeswoman for the Oxnard Fire Department.

The Oxnard dispatch center had contacted the Union Pacific response center to alert it to the disabled truck, and the response center in turn called the railroad’s dispatch center, which tried to call the Metrolink engineer, officials said.

Firefighter Graham Dunbar, 30, was inside the truck and firefighter Guillermo Garay, 29, was beside the vehicle as they held the man’s head, who they feared may have suffered a back or spinal injury, O’Malia said.

The firefighters could see the train, traveling about 60 mph, as it approached from about 200 yards away. They pulled the man, Miguel Reyes, out of the truck and were about five feet clear when the train smashed into it.

"Literally seconds before the train hit the truck," O'Malia said. "All three of them could have easily lost their lives."

Dunbar used his body to shield Reyes from flying debris as other firefighters and police dived for cover. The train struck at 5:43 a.m., according to Union Pacific records.

"There just simply was not enough time in between the time the call came into Union Pacific for us to be able to relay that information to the Metrolink engineer," said Tom Lange, a spokesman for Union Pacific.

Though it was a Metrolink train, it was traveling on a Union Pacific line. Reyes and another person involved in the earlier accident were taken to the hospital. No one was injured in the train crash.

The train was delayed about an hour and the scene was cleared by 8 a.m.

-- Raja Abdulrahim