Thursday, September 25, 2008
Witnesses Say Deputy Public Defender Leapt Into Path of Train
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Veteran Los Angeles Deputy Public Defender Paul Nichols died yesterday in an apparent suicide.
Witnesses said that Nichols jumped in front of a Metrolink train shortly after it pulled away from the Sylmar/San Fernando station shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday morning.
Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said that train 210 was traveling southbound on the Antelope Valley line, carrying about 70 passengers into downtown when the incident occurred near the intersection of Hubbard Avenue and San Fernando Road.
Lt. Tony Ruelas of the San Fernando Police Department said that officers responded to a fatal traffic accident call at 9:19, and saw a dead body about 50 yards east of Hubbard Avenue, laying alongside the train tracks when they arrived minutes later.
Ruelas said the officers spoke with three witnesses who said they had seen the decedent standing on Hubbard Avenue, watching the train off-loading and loading passengers at the station.
The witnesses estimated that the train had accelerated to a speed of about 25 mph as it approached the street. They reported the train honked its horn, and that the crossing arms and warning lights were engaged.
‘Looking at Train’
Nichols was looking directly at the train when he jumped, the witnesses said.
Oaxaca clarified that train 210 was not the same one involved the Sept. 12 head-on collision with a Union Pacific freight train which killed 25.
Train 210 was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles at 9:50, but was delayed about an hour, Oaxaca said. Two other trains in the area also experienced brief delays he added, but the line reopened at 10:25 and all trains were operating on schedule by the afternoon.
No injuries were reported by the train’s passengers.
Chief Deputy Public Defender Robert E. Kalunian said that Nichols, who was admitted in 1979, joined the office in 1981. Nichols spent the past 10 years working at the agency’s San Fernando Valley location, but had been on medical leave since February, Kalunian said.
He called Nichols a “caring and compassionate individual who took his job very seriously.”
Joan M. Croker, head deputy in the San Fernando office, said: “no one who loved their job more.”
She remembered Nichols as a “very bright, kind, [and] gentle.” He was the sort of person “that would give you the shirt off his back,” she said.
At work, she recalled, he was “always very cheerful,” “a little goofy,” and had a “quirky” sense of humor. He also was “a very sharp dresser,” who “looked very good when he came to work” she said.
‘Relatively Private Man’
He was a “relatively private man,” she remarked, but she suggested that the nature of a public defender’s work kept him from discussing his personal life, and added her office was “shocked and saddened” by Nichol’s untimely demise.
A source, who asked to remain anonymous, said Nicholas had been despondent over the death of his girlfriend from a drug overdose.
Based on the circumstances of Nichols’ death, Kalunian said the office has provided employees with information for the county’s employee assistance program.
Nichols attended UCLA for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He worked at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office prior to joining the Public Defender’s Office.
The coroner’s office said an autopsy is pending and may be completed today.
Survivor information was not immediately available.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company