SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Albert "Jay" Cox could not believe his eyes when he saw a freight train hurtling toward the commuter train he was riding.
"Because the brakes of our train were not being thrown on, I thought I was seeing it wrong," he said.
But there was nothing wrong with his vision. In an instant, he was hurled over the row of seats in front of him and smashed face-first into a table.
The 52-year-old lab technician, now bloodied, stitched-up and black-eyed, said he was in the third car of the Southern California commuter train that collided head-on with the freighter in the suburban Chatsworth section of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The accident left 25 dead and 135 injured.
In a community overwhelmed by Friday's train wreck, the deadliest U.S. rail disaster in 15 years, survivors and those mourning the dead comforted one another Sunday night at a church in the Los Angeles-area bedroom community of Simi Valley. The city was the one of the last stops on the commuter train from Los Angeles and a large number of victims were from the city.
Pastor Tony Amatangelo asked the 800 people at Grace Brethren Church to stand when they heard the names of lost family and friends. At the end of the recitation, the majority of the congregation was on its feet, many holding each other as they prayed.
Cox said he felt grateful for his life because he has a dependent wife, who has multiple sclerosis, and daughter with Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
"I feel guilty in many ways that I was saved and others were not. I'm certainly no saint by any means," Cox said. "But I am grateful the Lord has kept me around for a purpose."
His left ear took 45 stitches and required a skin graft. He had other injuries as well, but was able to walk away from the accident.
Others among the 220 passengers weren't as lucky.
Model student Atul Vyas scored in the top 1 percent on his medical school entrance exams, an achievement that would become the final honor in a life of academic achievements. He was riding the train to visit his parents at their home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Simi Valley.
"He never had to study," his father Vijay Vyas said. "When he was in 10th grade, I figured out he was smarter than me."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited Sunday with patients at the Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, about five miles (8 kilometers) west of the crash site. He said many of the 14 patients there were in good spirits despite horrific injuries. Six remained in critical condition.
"Everybody is counting their blessings, acknowledging that God is good and that they are very fortunate right now," Villaraigosa said.
Brothers Edmundo and Ivan Prieto Ramirez visited their injured mother Aurora Prieto, 59, who was riding the train with her daughter Laura Prieto Ramirez, 35. Mother and daughter had been visiting Los Angeles and Universal Studios.
Because Laura Prieto Ramirez suffers from cerebral palsy, she had been strapped into her seat and was not physically injured in the crash, though she has been traumatized.
Her mother apparently was tossed the length of their rail car because she was bruised along one side, Ivan Ramirez said. She also had a cut to her head, brain swelling and other injuries, but was in stable condition.
Speaking to the mayor at a news conference following his visit, Edmundo Ramirez gave an emotional thank you to hospital staff and emergency personnel.
"They saved my mom and my sister," he said, breaking down in tears.