OXNARD, United States (AFP) - The police on Tuesday arrested the driver of a truck that got stuck on train tracks in California, causing a crash with a commuter train in which 28 people were hurt.
The stranded vehicle exploded into a fireball after being hit by the four passenger cars and the locomotive pushing the Los Angeles-bound Metrolink train, officials said.
Three passenger coaches came to rest on their side after flying off the rails near Oxnard, about 120km from Los Angeles, a spokesman for Metrolink said.
A total of 48 passengers and three crew were on board the train when it crashed at around 5.45am local time.
Twenty-eight people were hospitalised, with seven admitted for further treatment, officials told a press conference.
Patients were being treated for spinal injuries and multiple fractures, Ventura County Emergency Medical Service spokesman Steve Carroll said.
The 54-year-old driver of the truck - which appeared to have been ripped into two by the impact - was found by the police wandering around 1.6km from the crash site. He was arrested on suspicion of felony hit and run.
Oxnard assistant police chief Jason Benites told reporters the driver, Mr Jose Sanchez Ramirez, tried to make a right turn across the track when his truck got stuck. "He was very upset when he was taken into custody," Mr Benites added.
Fire Department spokesman Joe Garces said the driver of the train had spotted the truck and had begun slowing down before the crash.
"We do not know yet the exact speed the train was traveling at impact but the emergency protocols had been initiated before the incident," Mr Garces told KTLA television.
A passenger on board the train told of panic as the train raced through the fireball caused by the explosion.
"As I was coming through the crossing I had a feeling of death come over me," Mr Joel Bingham told KTLA. "I thought 'Oh my god, we could die.'
"We went from 60 miles per hour to a stop and we all lived. I can't believe it," he added.
The three toppled cars are reported to have been fitted with a crash energy management system, which prevents crumpling of the carriages by absorbing the force of impact. They remained intact after the accident.
A Metrolink spokesman said the engineer and conductor of the train were among those injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates serious rail, road and aviation accidents, wrote on Twitter that it would launch a probe into the train wreck.
Metrolink said on Twitter that train services have been suspended between Oxnard and the neighbouring town of Camarillo.
It urged commuters to find other ways of getting to work.
"Please consider using alternate transportation. We are reaching out to bus agencies for assistance. Buses not available at this time," Metrolink tweeted.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Metrolink rail line, which has seen two multi-fatality crashes over the past decade, has made a renewed push to improve safety and restore public confidence.
In 2008, 25 people were killed when a Metrolink train crashed head on into a freight train in the Los Angeles district of Chatsworth, the deadliest accident in Metrolink's history.