OXNARD, Calif. — A decision on whether charges should be brought against a truck driver involved in a crash that derailed a California commuter train will not be made until the investigation is complete, Ventura County's top prosecutor said Thursday.
District Attorney Gregory D. Totten cited the complexity of the investigation and number of agencies involved in announcing that no charges would immediately be filed against Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Arizona.
Totten said, however, that the Oxnard Police Department acted properly in arresting Ramirez for investigation of leaving the scene of an injury accident under a state hit-and-run law.
After the announcement, Ramirez's attorney, Ron Bamieh, said his client would remain in custody for several hours while being processed for release.
"I anticipate there is still a chance of charges being filed in the future," and that may depend on the state of the engineer who was critically injured in the crash, Bamieh said.
The lawyer said he met Thursday with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board.
"Their investigation is completely consistent with Mr. Ramirez's version of events," Bamieh said, adding there was no need for police to arrest Ramirez as quickly as they did because he was not a flight risk or a threat to the community.
Three of five Metrolink train cars derailed and 30 people were injured, four critically, in Tuesday's pre-dawn crash.
Ramirez's attorney has said his client accidentally turned onto the tracks and made repeated attempts to get the vehicle off the rails, then ran for his life as the train approached.
Police said Ramirez was found 45 minutes after the crash 1.6 miles away, though Bamieh said he was only half a mile away and that he has phone records that show he spoke with police much sooner.
Police said Ramirez did not call 911 and made no immediate effort to call for help. But Bamieh said Ramirez, who doesn't speak English well, tried to get help from a passerby, attempted to call his employer, and eventually reached his son to help him speak with police.
At an afternoon news conference, Sanchez-Ramirez's son, Daniel Sanchez, released a statement saying the family feels very badly for those hurt.
"My father and the rest of my family are praying for everyone's speedy recovery and our concerns and thoughts are with the victims," said Sanchez, who was accompanied by his mother and other family members. He declined to take questions.
Police would not discuss drug and alcohol test results, but Bamieh said he was told there was no sign Ramirez was impaired.
NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said Wednesday that investigators have not ruled out that the truck was somehow stranded and will determine why it traveled 80 feet down the tracks and remained there with its parking brake engaged.
There have been six accidents at the semi-rural crossing in the past seven years.
Two people were killed last year when a car struck an Amtrak train. In 2010, a driver accidently turned onto the tracks and was struck by a Metrolink train and injured, federal records show.
Ramirez had a drunken driving conviction in Arizona in 1998 and a pair of traffic citations. Bamieh said the citations were minor and the DUI was too old to be relevant to the current circumstances.