LOS ANGELES – The man accused of causing a deadly train wreck during an aborted suicide attempt last month pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 11 counts of murder that could bring the death penalty.
Juan Manuel Alvarez (search), 25, parked an SUV on the tracks Jan. 26 but lost his nerve and jumped out in time to see two commuter trains crash in suburban Glendale, authorities said.
Investigators said he stabbed himself and slashed his wrists after the crash, but no injuries could be seen in court Tuesday.
Alvarez also pleaded not guilty to arson. Authorities said he poured gasoline on himself before the crash in another suicide attempt, but then changed his mind.
Defense attorney Eric Chase said he believes Alvarez was suffering from an untreated mental illness. "He was hearing voices, and he was having auditory and visual hallucinations. So there's no question that there was some mental illness," Chase said.
Alvarez has been receiving medication since his arrest and is now "less suicidal," Chase said, adding that his client "expresses remorse and a great deal of sorrow for the damage that was caused by his actions."
The defendant was ordered held without bail pending a March 16 preliminary hearing to decide if there is enough evidence to try him.
Alvarez' wife, Carmelita, described her husband as an insecure man who became despondent because he believed he could not provide for his family.
He told her he intended to take his own life but had a vision that made him change his mind. "He was there, and just out of nowhere, he basically, like, saw a light," she said. "He said he felt a presence from God telling him to 'get away.'"
The first legal claim stemming from the wreck was filed Monday against the Metrolink transit agency (search) by Rita Kay Tutino, whose husband, sheriff's Deputy James Tutino, was killed in the accident.
The claim, a required step before a lawsuit can be filed, alleged Metrolink caused Tutino's death because it used locomotives to push rather than pull the train cars.
A call to a Metrolink spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
Tutino is seeking unspecified damages.