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Death Penalty For Derailment?

Firefighters examine the wreckage from a train derailment Jan. 26, 2005, in Glendale, Calif.
The suicidal man who authorities say caused the chain-reaction train derailment that killed 11 people has been charged with multiple counts of murder and could face the death penalty, the district attorney said Thursday.

Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, left his sport utility vehicle on a railroad track Wednesday after changing his mind about committing suicide, authorities said. He was held without bail at a hospital's jail ward after apparently slitting his own wrists and stabbing himself in the chest.

Early Thursday, another suicidal man was arrested in Orange County after he parked his sport utility vehicle on railroad tracks, said Irvine police Cmdr. Dave Freedland. He drove off after he was spotted by police, and a dispatcher talked him out of suicide during a cell phone call, authorities said. Freedland declined to say if the incident was considered a copycat crime.

In addition to the 11 dead, nearly 200 people were injured. The last person reported missing was accounted-for Thursday and firefighters ended recovery efforts. All but one of the dead had been identified.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said prosecutors filed charges late Wednesday for 10 counts of murder with "special circumstances" of committing murder through a train derailment. Cooley stressed however that the case was still being evaluated. Under state law, special circumstances allegations could make a defendant eligible for the death penalty.

Cooley said the complaint would be amended to add another count to refer to the 11th victim, found in the wreckage late Wednesday night. And he said the defendant's suicidal intent didn't make any difference to him.

"He's not going to engage my sympathy because he was despondent. His despondency doesn't move me," the district attorney told The Associated Press.

Arraignment was initially planned for Thursday afternoon but was put off until Friday because of Alvarez's medical condition. Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen says charging Alvarez with a capital crime "will monumentally complicate the criminal case against him and, in the end, almost certainly fail at trial or on appeal."

Cohen says that's "not because Alvarez hasn't already confessed to criminal conduct. But because his conduct and comments, and the comments of his family and law enforcement officials, already indicate that Alvarez did not have the type of murderous intent you need for a sound capital conviction."

Alvarez, 25, got out of his green Jeep Cherokee before the two commuter trains crashed Wednesday morning in this Los Angeles suburb. He stood by as the gruesome chain-reaction wreck scattered wreckage and bodies over a quarter-mile of track.

The SUV was stuck between tracks away from a crossing and once there, he could not have moved it even if he had tried, Metrolink CEO David Solow said. The southbound train that struck it bolted skyward, hit a parked Union Pacific railcar, then clipped the northbound train.

Sheriff Lee Baca told CBS' The Early Show Thursday that "Alvarez was rather astounded himself as to what the outcome was" when the train hit the vehicle.

The crash was the worst U.S. rail tragedy since March 15, 1999, when an Amtrak train hit a truck and derailed near Bourbonnais, Ill., killing 11 people and injuring more than 100.

"I hope that we're able to assess this in a way that we can figure out: Is there a way that we can stop one crazed individual from creating this kind of carnage?" Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn told reporters.

Among the two women and nine men killed was a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy on his way to work. About two dozen people were hospitalized in critical condition.

Glendale Fire Chief Christopher Gray said early Thursday that authorities were still actively looking for a 12th person who remained missing.

Alvarez's estranged wife, Carmelita Alvarez, had ordered him out of her home months ago, her family said, and in December she obtained a temporary restraining order keeping him away from her, their 3-year-old son and other family members.

"He is using drugs and has been in and out of rehab twice," she said in asking for the restraining order. "He threatened to take our kid away and to hurt my family members." She said he was "planning on selling his vehicle to buy a gun and threatened to use it."

Carmelita Alvarez, who lives in a converted garage behind her sister's home in suburban Compton, also told the court her husband had threatened to seek revenge on people he suspected of introducing her to another man. She said his drug use was triggering hallucinations.

She went into seclusion shortly after the crash.

"Whether we make any comment right now depends on my sister," her brother, Ruben Ochoa, told The Associated Press outside the family home on Wednesday. "We're not commenting right now."

The crash victims included several public employees, including Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy James Tutino, 47, whose flag-draped body was saluted by law enforcement officers and firefighters as it was carried from the wreckage.

First on the scene were workers at a Costco store next to the tracks, who helped remove some of the injured in shopping carts. Uninjured passengers also joined the rescue effort.

Costco employee Hugo Moran said an elderly man, covered in blood and soot and with apparently broken arms and legs, was pulled out of the wreckage but died soon after. Before he died, he thanked his rescuers and asked them to pray for him.

Another trapped man had used his own blood to write a note on a seat bottom. Using the heart symbol, he wrote "I love my kids" and "I love Leslie."

The man's identity wasn't known, but Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Capt. Rex Vilaubi said he was removed from the wreckage alive.

Scores of times each year, people intentionally stand, jump and drive in front of trains, figuring it's a sure way to end their lives.

"They're suffering and they see this as a way of ending the suffering," said Dr. Brian Mishara, director of a center that studies suicide at the University of Quebec in Montreal. "It's not true that it's a sure way of dying."

A 13-year-old girl from suburban Chicago committed suicide in March by walking on commuter rail tracks with her back to the train. A 53-year-old woman killed herself in July by lying down on railroad tracks in Boca Raton, Fla. That month in Kansas the 19-year-old Argonia High School valedictorian was struck and killed by a train after tying himself to the tracks with baling wire.