Main | Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Train Crash Engineer Was Gay

Well, shit. The engineer of the commuter train that crashed in California, killing 24 people, was apparently texting teenaged boys rather than watching the track signals. And he was gay. You know where this is going.
In the years before his death, Sanchez led a nomadic life, with public records showing addresses in Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Nebraska and California. In 2000, he and Daniel Charles Burton, a waiter, bought a home in Crestline.

Burton moved to California from West Haven, Conn., his family said, seeking better weather and the freedom to be gay. No one in Burton's family knows how the two men met, but Burton and Sanchez ended up living together in Studio City before moving to the San Bernardino Mountains.

On Feb. 14, 2003, Burton hanged himself in the garage of their home. "Rob, Happy Valentine's Day," read a note Burton left behind that his sister Carolann Peschell kept. "I love you. Please take care of yourself and Ignatia. I love you both very much. Daniel." Ignatia was the greyhound the men owned.

The coroner's report showed that Burton tested positive for HIV. According to the report, Sanchez told investigators that he and Burton had been arguing before the suicide, and Sanchez told Burton that they should break up. Even before the suicide, Sanchez was having problems.

In 2002, he was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting a video game component from Costco, said Wilson Wong, his former attorney. Initially charged with a felony, Sanchez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, paid a fine and served 90 days in jail on weekends, Wong said.

"When the incident happened, he was going through some personal issues -- he didn't tell me what they were," Wong said. "He said that's the reason he wasn't able to make good judgments. He said a lot of things were going on that caused him to make stupid mistakes."


A neighbor there, Oliver Amelsberg, 83, described Sanchez as polite but guarded, someone who liked talking about trains over the backyard fence but didn't reveal much about himself. And, like Barber, he also found Sanchez "different" but likable.

"He was a good man," he said. "He acted and talked like a responsible person." Amelsberg said Sanchez once told him that he knew some teenagers enamored with trains that he'd occasionally wave to on his route. "He only said that once, but I thought about it when they mentioned they were sending messages" over cellphones, Amelsberg said.

Investigators are looking into reports that Sanchez may have been text messaging a group of teenage rail enthusiasts just before the accident, and the NTSB said Tuesday that it had subpoenaed cellphone records to examine the engineer's text messages.
There is no indication that Sanchez ever met the boys, who are currently only described as "teenaged rail enthusiasts".

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