LOS ANGELES - A murder defendant apologized yesterday for causing a commuter train disaster that killed 11 people, testifying that he was trying to kill himself and never meant to harm anyone else.
On the witness stand, Juan Alvarez, 29, asked for forgiveness from families of those killed in the January 2005 disaster involving two Metrolink trains. Some relatives of the dead were present as Alvarez testified.
Alvarez said he poured gas over himself and his Jeep, took out a lighter and then decided he did not want to burn himself to death because it would be too painful. He said he then drove onto railroad tracks northeast of Los Angeles in Glendale, hoping a train would smash into his vehicle and kill him quickly.
Prosecutors allege that Alvarez had made not a suicide attempt, but a bid for attention from his wife. He had fled the Jeep by the time a Metrolink train hit the vehicle, then struck a parked freight train and was struck by another Metrolink train going the other way. About 180 people were injured.
Alvarez has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of murder and one count of arson. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Alvarez said that after he decided not to kill himself, he tried but couldn't move the SUV. He said that he saw the train's bright lights before jumping out of the vehicle.
"I feel terrible and I ask for forgiveness," Alvarez said. "I know some of the family members are here today. I'm very sorry for what happened. I never meant to hurt any of your loved ones. That could have been my mom or dad."
Alvarez said several times that he did not think anyone else would be hurt and had no idea that the train could derail.
Alvarez testified that he had made other suicide attempts, once laying down on a road waiting for a car to run over him and twice stabbing himself.
Deputy District Attorney Cathryn Brougham said in opening statements last month that Alvarez had threatened to kill his wife and staged the accident to get her attention. She said he succeeded because after he was jailed on murder charges his wife withdrew a restraining order and visited him regularly. *