Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
LAPD Honor Guard prepares for funeral services at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for Los Angeles Police Officer Spree DeSha, who was killed in Friday's Metrolink train collision in Chatsworth.
Spree DeSha of Simi Valley was one of 25 people killed in last week's collision of freight and commuter trains. Metrolink officials offer letters to commuters promising safety as a top priority.
Hundreds of mourners gathered this morning at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels for the funeral of a Los Angeles police officer killed in last week's catastrophic Metrolink crash in Chatsworth.
Uniformed police officers and friends and family members prepared to pay tribute to Spree DeSha, 35, a Simi Valley resident and seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. She was among 25 people killed and 135 injured when the commuter line slammed into an oncoming Union Pacific freight train.
As funeral preparations continued, Metrolink commuters were greeted this morning with a letter placed on their seats from agency officials, assuring them safety was a top concern.
"Dear Metrolink Riders," the letter read. "We have all been touched by the devastating events on September 12. We know that you join with every member of the Metrolink Family in extending our sincerest regrets to everyone affected, directly or indirectly, by this tragedy.
"... We want you to know that your personal safety continues to be our top priority and that all of our employees and contractors join us in this sincere commitment. We are cooperating fully with the investigation and will work tirelessly to determine the cause and ensure this will never happen again."
The letter was signed by Ron Roberts, chairman of the Metrolink board of directors, and David Solow, the agency's chief executive officer.
Federal investigators said Wednesday that records from Metrolink engineer Robert M. Sanchez's cellphone show he sent and received text messages while on duty Friday.
But investigators have not yet analyzed the records to determine whether Sanchez was using his phone at the time of the accident.
"The safety board will correlate those records with other investigative information to determine as precisely as possible the exact times of those messages in relation to the engineer's operation of his train," a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said in a written statement.
The agency subpoenaed the phone records after hearing news reports that several youths said they had exchanged text messages with Sanchez shortly before the crash.
Federal investigators did not say how many text messages Sanchez sent and received.
The NTSB disclosure came on the eve of a California Public Utilities Commission meeting today at which officials are expected to ban personal use of wireless devices by train workers. The move, a response to Friday's crash, is intended to quickly correct a troubling omission in federal railroad regulations, according to a PUC report obtained Wednesday.
In addition to the Chatsworth crash, which the report says may have been partially caused by cellphone use, inappropriate phone usage may have resulted in a collision between two San Francisco commuter trains in June. Swift action is needed because of the "imminent danger" of mobile phone use by rail workers, the report says.
Also on Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa replaced one voting member and one alternate member of the Metrolink board of directors, saying he wanted to ensure that safety and agency transparency are top priorities.
The move was not a rebuke of the board members who were replaced, but was intended to send a clear message to the 11-member Metrolink board that it was a mistake to "assume a defensive posture" in its response to the tragedy, said a source familiar with the mayor's decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
He was referring to actions taken against Metrolink's chief spokeswoman, Denise Tyrrell.
She resigned Monday after being criticized by her superiors, who said she had spoken prematurely when she told the media that Sanchez had caused the crash. Villaraigosa has the authority to make the changes because he also serves as chairman of board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, one of the agencies that appoint Metrolink board members to oversee the five-county commuter rail line.
"The mayor believes that the public deserves answers and the agency needs changes, and he's taking the leadership to get it done," said Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo.
"The operational safety of Metrolink must be the paramount concern."
Effective immediately, Villaraigosa appointed MTA board member Richard Katz, a longtime transportation advisor to the mayor, as a voting member of the Metrolink board and Deputy Mayor Jaime de la Vega as an alternate.
They replace current board member Anthony J. Bejarano and alternate Francine Oschin.
In an interview, Katz said that he and Villaraigosa would introduce a motion at the MTA board meeting today to study all systems that may be used to prevent collisions, including the positive train control safety system that NTSB investigators say could have prevented the Chatsworth crash.
"We want to make sure that we have every safety tool in the toolbox working on these lines, particularly when you have freight and commuter sharing the lines," Katz said.
Although he's not certain that a full, comprehensive train control system will be ready any time soon, Katz said there may be other safety measures that can be taken on an interim basis.
For example, Katz said some freight cars are equipped with couplers that help prevent one car from crushing another.
As for cost, Katz said, "I think between the five counties [that finance Metrolink] we'll find a way to pay for it."
Officers on motorcycles begin the funeral procession to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown, in honor of Officer DeSha.
Sha Moran releases a dove over her daughter Spree DeSha's casket at her funeral at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Thursday
LAPD officer killed in Metrolink crash is honored at funeral Officer Spree DeSha is remembered for her unwavering commitment to the department. Mayor Villaraigosa and City Council members are among the attendees.