Metrolink111: Rob Among The Chips And The Cookies: Almost
Shelley J Alongi


Rob Among the Chips and the Cookies: Almost

If thereís one lesson Iíve learned from my trip to Chatsworth, it is this: if you ever go chasing after engineers, or trains, or ideas for memorial plaques, please, by all means, wear sun block. Chatsworth can get hot in the afternoon, but on the morning of my second trip, the station and surrounding shelter is surprisingly cool, but not as cool as the trip before, and certainly much more receptive than the city councilís office for placement of a memorial plaque for Rob Sanchez in itís depot. The very mention of placing a plaque for the Metrolink engineer who died on September 12, 2008 after his train apparently ran through a red light and collided with the Local leesdale Union Pacific freight train (6512) drew such an angry response from Mitch Englander, the city council Chief of Staff, that it was stunning in its delivery. Certainly it was disrespectful to the engineer, but even more disrespectful against me, a non constituent with a simple question. It might be a question full of controversy and red hot emotion but it was a question that technically could have received a yes or no answer. Iím happy to say that the outcome of this story so far is not so disastrous, but that call was stunning enough to receive a thorough reporting on which I will do, as you might suspect, and then Iíll give you the happier outcome with all the details. But please, if you ever go to Chatsworth for any reason, please donít forget your sun block.

The Call

At 10:35 AM on Thursday July 2, 2009, three days after my first trip to Chatsworth, I received a telephone call from Mitch Englander the Chatsworth City Councilman Grieggís office Chief of staff. Councilman Grieggís office, through the mouth of his Chief of Staff informed me that they would not consider a separate plaque for Rob Sanchez since he was partially at fault for the accident that killed 25 people and injured scores more that day, September 12, 2008. He said that currently a committee was meeting to plan the placement of a memorial for everyone who perished in the crash for the site itself to be unveiled on September 12, 2009. I asked him if there was coverage in any Chatsworth paperĒ in regard to this, that Iíd like to read about it. He said there was a committee that was planning it but it would probably be in the paper but it hadnít been covered yet. He seemed very emotionally involved in this incident I donít blame him and I also understand the strong emotion associated with this accident. He said that he had a mixed understanding of the idea and asked me to explain it to him. Why was I doing this and did I know the engineer personally? There were, he said, other engineers involved. I have to admit I didnít understand what he meant about the other engineers, unless he meant the freight engineer who was injured. I have not been able to locate any information on the condition of the other engineer and did not express that to Mitch Englander, but wondered if thatís what he meant by the statement that there wren ďother engineersĒ involved.

I very calmly explained my idea: the placement of a plaque with his name and picture on it in the station depot. Megan, the woman who called me back last week said she would check on who owned the station itself so that I could go to the proper authorities to ask my question. Of course, because this technically is a free country, private or publicly owned property owners do have the option to turn down any donations so technically no one has to take the plaque. It could just hang here till I Move and I could take it with me.

However, the manner in which the response was delivered was in my judgment extremely unprofessional. Ok the accident was unprofessional, too, donít argue that point with me. It is the fact that itís just disrespectful to have used such an angry ton of voice in responding to my question that remains with me. .

I asked him why Chatsworth was considering a plaque with his name on it for the crash site? It was being placed there as one of the people who died in the accident, he explained, but it wasnít being considered as a separate plaque for the engineer. No way! No.

In pure journalistic mistake-making mode, or curiosity, without having gained any particular level of trust, I asked the following question. Did he lose someone personally in the accident? ďyou seem very involved in thisĒ I said. I said I understand the feelings. He said he wasnít going to answer that. He said he didnít know me, I was getting personal and he wouldnít answer that. He said he appreciated my out of the box thinking but no way. This time I turned the tables. Having received an answer and being presented with a very understandable and emotional brick wall I decided it was my turn to calmly interrupt the Chief of Staff. Ok Mitch I said thank you so much for getting back to me, thanks for your time, you have a great fourth of July weekend.Ē

He did not say anything disrespectful about Rob Sanchez, he was just very insistent that the depot would not take a plaque with his name only on it. I understand the emotions. I understand that there was company policy that was violated. I also understand that the man had friends who knew and loved him that some thought he was a professional, that he taught others to love trains, and that the man was confronted head-on whether he knew it or not, with a freight train and probably knew he was going to die. I would hope that if I were in that manís shoes someone would give me a fighting chance. I want to give Rob Sanchez that fighting chance.

In our twenty minute conversation I asked Mitch Englander if he understood that the investigation to this date has not been fuly completed. He grew quiet. ďIt doesnít matterĒ he insisted. It matters to me. No matter whatthe final investigation shows, even if itís just to reiterate the same information, or if it is to bring out more personal details or professional details about Rob Sanchez, it matters. It matters to me.


You probably cannot even imagine the variety of responses Iíve gotten when discussing the placement of this plaque. You know about rejection of course because Iíve written about it. Now you know about this call. But what you donít know is that on Rob Sanchezís memorial page hosted by the Los Angeles Times there has been at least one person who has absolutely inveighed against this idea. The latest post is so angry that it bears repeating. Here it is in its entirety.
Shelley should be blocked from posting on this web site, let her start her own like she said she was going to do. Having her praise this guy left & right, really hurts those of us who lost a loved one because of this guys negligence. I am VERY glad the cafe rejected her from placing this STUPID plaque that she has had made, here's an idea Shelley you keep it hanging above your computer so you can look at it all day long, because no body else is obsessed with this guy the way you are and none of us wants to see the STUPID thing. I am sure that his loved ones are hurting just as much as the rest of us who lost someone, but we do not NEED or WANT you pushing him down all our throats, give it up already, maybe you should go talk to someone, because you clearly need some HELP!!

Iím not one to respond online to posts such as this: I feel it wastes space and just feeds into argumets and hurt feelings so I post periodic updates to the project and hope that people who knew and loved him check back on occasion to see if anyone else has posted any stories about him. There has been silence on the part of his friends, at least on this page. Ther may be other places where others remember him with kindness. There are some nice comments accompanying Youtube videos placed by teenagers who knew him. One particular teenager Iíd like to meet someday. I hope he still becomes an engineerÖand not a pilot. The pilot reference comes from one of Robís text messages. I do wonder if he still wants to be an engineer after the death of his friend. Hopefully a very conscientious one. Weíre all hoping all engineers are conscientious. Most of the time, most days, they are.

Rob Among the chips and Cookies: Almost

Robís memorial plaque almost hung in the Whistle Stop Cafť at the chatsworth station. But it was not to be. I thought that the ease with which Marcella the owner took the plaque might lead to some trouble: it did. But never fear, weír still looking. I let Marcella know that there had been stiff opposition to hanging the plaque inside the depot. ďI want you to kno thatĒ I said. She informed me that she would take responsibility for the plaque. However, when push came to shove, she took the plaque down. I guess she wasnít as brave as I thought. I could not get her to return my phone call and I suspect that Iíll know more in September when I make a trip up there to have lunch with Chris and pay her back $1.99. I needed a bottle of water and when I went to pay for it I discovered I didnít have cash and she didnít take a credit card. I donít even think the plaque hung there 24 hours.

Lilian expressed concern that someone might try to damage the plaque. It could be, but then she might be over reacting, too. I donít dismiss any possibility, not in this day and age, but I think thersí more sympathy for rob Sanchez than anyone admits. Right now at this writing, one of the guys who knew Rob has the plaque. Weíre pursuing the possibility of hanging it in the lounge where train crews go to wait between trains. Apparently, two engineers really liked the plaque. The conductor on Robís train that day liked it. We shall see how it goes. I have other places I want to contact about this plaque if it doesnít end up there. It may be that this plaque will hang somewhere completely unimagined at a time unimagined.

All I kno now is that Rob Sanchez helped me discover trains. The circumstances of his death are sad and confusing, but he definitely left his mark. He certainly has left his mark on me. One of the guys who knew Rob said he was glad I had come to find him. He said he would help me find a place for the plaque. As Iíve always done, and as this story develops, Iíll keep you posted.

In the meantime there are train stations to discover, trains to chase, engineers to meet, and friends to make. So Iíll go make them.

Rob Sanchez, my train engineer, rest in peace.



Copyright © 2009 Shelley J Alongi
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