Attorneys have leveled sensational charges against the operators of the Metrolink train that crashed in Chatsworth killing 25 people last September. At a packed news conference held today at the Silver Lake offices of Hildebrand, McCleod and Nelson, firm lawyers claimed that engineer Robert Sanchez had been cited on numerous occasions for violating rules against the private use of cell phones during work, yet Veolia-Connex, the international conglomerate that operates Metrolink trains, did nothing. An ongoing National Transportation and Safety Board review of the 2008 disaster has concluded that Sanchez was texting fellow railroad enthusiasts moments before Train 111 plowed head-on into a freight train.

Left: Anthony Petru (Photo: L.A. Weekly)

Hildebrand partner Anthony Petru said his 82-year-old Oakland-based firm specializes in railroad-related litigation and enjoys longstanding access to railroad employees who, he said, have pointed fingers at Veolia-Connex. Hildebrand's Silver Lake office is within easy earshot of Metrolink tracks and is decorated with Western art and rusted railroad hardware. The press conference was held in a room built to resemble a miniature courtroom — and has been used for both arbitration hearings and TV and movie shoots.

Below: Chatsworth crash site. (Photo: Ted Soqui)

Petru said Metrolink employees are too frightened to come forward with what they know, but that his firm will use the information given it to press discovery interrogations of Veolia-Connex officers in the course of the firm's lawsuit against the French-owned multinational.

Hildebrand partner Edward Pfiester Jr., who declined to refer to

Sanchez by name because Pfeister regards the corporate culture of

speed-ups and cost-cutting measures as the crash's real culprit, said the

engineer had been “busted” during one inspection when inspectors rang

Sanchez's cell phone and heard it ring inside his grip — even though

cell phones are required by Metrolink to be switched off during work


Pfiester also claimed that Metrolink falsified its on-arrival

logs to present an image of its trains' punctuality. Both Petru and

Pfiester urged passengers who were on the ill-fated Train 111 and who

haven't yet filed claims to do so before the statute for doing so expires

in eight weeks. The laywers were followed by Nick Cotsis and Richard

Myles, passengers who were on both the Chatsworth accident and the 2005

Glendale Metrolink wreck that occurred when Juan Alvarez, an emotionally distraught Compton man, parked his

SUV on the tracks. Cotsis said he had four ribs broken in the

Chatsworth wreck, while Myles suffered a broken neck.The men are

plaintiffs in the suit filed by Hildebrand against Veolia-Connex and the

Metropolitan Transportation Authority, among other defendants.

Erica Swerdlow, a spokesperson for Veolia Transportation's Illinois office, told the L.A. Weekly,

“We have strict cell phone policies that are strongly enforced. We

cannot comment on Robert Sanchez at the request of the NTSB during

[its] investigation and we don't comment on pending litigation.”

LA Weekly