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Wife: Train derailment suspect needs help
Eric Chase, Carmelita Alvarez and Beto Alvarez speak to CNN from Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Justice and Rights
Capital Punishment
Crime, Law and Justice

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Juan Alvarez is facing 11 murder charges in connection with a commuter train crash in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale in January.

Police say Alvarez parked his SUV on the tracks in a suicide attempt but changed his mind at the last minute. The commuter train hit the vehicle, derailed and struck another train.

Alvarez's wife, Carmelita, cousin Beto, and attorney Eric Chase spoke to CNN's Daryn Kagan on Wednesday.

KAGAN: Mr. Chase, first to you, your client has pleaded innocent based on what, since it seems that he told police that he was there and parked his car on the tracks?

CHASE: Well, we always plead innocent at the arraignment. And we have a lot of issues to deal with in this case.

They've, in my opinion, significantly overcharged the case by charging him with first-degree murder. They would have to show intent to kill, or if they're using the felony murder statute, intent to derail the train. And I think ... the expectation should have been that what was going to happen ... is the train [would] not derail.

KAGAN: One of the big questions still out there, Mr. Chase, is whether the prosecutor goes after the death penalty. You've been quoted as saying that people need to calm down a little bit, take a step back and think about the consequences of their actions. I got to tell you, if I am one of the people who lost a family member or who has somebody who was injured, I got to think, you've got to be kidding, think about the consequences of your actions.

CHASE: Well, remember, we deal with justice as a society. We don't allow victims to mete out justice. If we did, we'd be back in the Middle Ages.

We decide things like the death penalty in a very reflective manner in this country. And what I've been saying is, that when we apply the death penalty, it's almost like something clicks in the defendant's head when he decides to do some real harm. We do not have that in this case. There was no clicking sound ...

KAGAN: You're saying there was no real harm in this case, 11 people dead?

CHASE: No, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is there was no intent to cause that kind of harm.

The intent was to kill himself. And we as a society do not apply the death penalty and never have in those types of situations. And in this case it would be absurd to try to apply the death penalty to somebody whose attempt to commit suicide, although a tragic result, it was still just a suicide attempt.

KAGAN: Mrs. Alvarez, let me bring you in. And I realize this is a very difficult time for your family as well. When did you first realize that your husband was involved in this train situation?

C. ALVAREZ: Well, I didn't realize it at the time. I realized it maybe about 9:00 -- between 9:00 and 10:00 in the morning. I didn't -- I really didn't know what was going on, what was happening. But I do know that he never intended to hurt anybody.

He did -- I guess he wanted to take his own life, but he never thought that train would derail, you know? I mean, then again, who would? He was never the type of person that could -- that would hurt anybody.

KAGAN: And yet you had -- and I realize this is a very difficult time for you, so I thank you for being with us. You say he was never anybody who would hurt anybody. And yet didn't you have a restraining order against him, to keep him away from you and your children?

C. ALVAREZ: Yes, I did. I had a restraining order against him. But the whole reason behind that restraining order was that he was so mentally disabled and emotionally disabled that I didn't want that for my kids.

I wanted him to get better for my kids. That was the whole reason I put the restraining order. Maybe a judge could grant him to get some kind of help, but it wasn't because I was, like, scared of him or anything.

KAGAN: Beto, let's bring you in. Your cousin, whether it's a restraining order or what we've seen unfold in the last couple of weeks, this is a man who has clearly been struggling for a long time.

B. ALVAREZ: Yes, he has. He's had -- ever since he left his wife, he had a hard time dealing with it. Not being able to be with his children every day really bothered him.

KAGAN: Have either you, Carmelita, or Beto, have you had a chance to talk with him since this all took place?

B. ALVAREZ: Yes, I had a chance to talk to him last Monday.

KAGAN: And what does he have to say about everything that's taken place and the people whose lives have been lost and the people who have been injured?

B. ALVAREZ: He's -- real remorse. He says he prays for everybody. He tells us to pray for them and that he's sorry for everything that's happened. He never meant for anybody to get hurt.

KAGAN: And Carmelita, as for what happened before the restraining order, before the train incident, you think ultimately your estranged husband needs help?

C. ALVAREZ: Yes, he does.

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