Those who knew Robert M. Sanchez say he was a relentlessly upbeat man with a passion for trains and Italian greyhounds. At the same time, the Metrolink engineer led a solitary life in recent years and was intensely private, sharing little about a past that included tragedy and run-ins with the law.
Sanchez died Friday at the helm of a Metrolink train after apparently failing to stop at a signal near Chatsworth and colliding with an oncoming Union Pacific train. The crash, the worst in modern California history, killed 24 others and injured 135.
Investigators on Tuesday said they had ruled out train and track failure in the accident, and are close to ruling out signal failure. They said they are now focusing on Sanchez and the long days engineers must work, which include lengthy breaks during non-peak hours.
“Split schedules are something that are a great concern to us,” said Kitty Higgins, a National Transportation Safety Board member. She said the agency also would look into a news report that Sanchez was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian earlier this month.
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.
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Photo: Lilian Barber, Los Angeles Times