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Suicide by train: A growing trend in SoCal

Ron Iseli standing in front of the transitional home he manages.
Ron Iseli standing in front of the transitional home he manages.
James Kim

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In 2010, Ron Iseli was fired from his job and faced eviction from his apartment. “I refused to be homeless. I would rather kill myself than be homeless,” says Iseli. When the money ran out, Iseli went to the Hollywood and Vine metro station and jumped in front of a moving train.

Reporter Charles Fleming interviewed Iseli in his piece about train suicides called, “The End of the Line,” for July’s Los Angeles Magazine. “2012 is already on track to be one of the worst years on record,” say Fleming. In 2010, there were 16 fatalities just on the Metro alone. The following year reached a death toll of 14 people, and in 2012, that death toll has already been matched.

L.A. County has some of the highest train fatality rates in the country and one of the highest for presumed suicides by train. It’s something every engineer has to deal with. Fleming says, “They know that they couldn’t have stopped the train, and yet, they are haunted by this idea that maybe something could have gone differently and this wouldn’t have happened.”

Often, the last thing that happens when the train hits a body on the track is, “the person turns and locks eyes with the engineer,” says Fleming. That was Ron Iseli’s last memory before the train struck him. He woke up with the train right on top of him, and his very first thought was, “Oh boy, I can’t even do this right.”

He was rushed to Cedars-Sinai hospital and went under for two days. When Iseli woke, he said, “I knew that I lived for a reason.” Before the incident, Ron was an atheist, but lying in the hospital bed, he got a sense that there was something watching over him.

The main regret Iseli has is not taking the train engineer into account. He planned his suicide for months and didn’t want to kill himself in his apartment where his roommate would find him. Instead, Ron thought the best way for him to go was to jump in front of a train. Charles Fleming says, “They may not have any concept that when they’re doing this—when they’re ending their lives in this way—that they’re affecting anybody but themselves.” Ron says he hopes the engineer who was driving the train can forgive him.

Ron Iseli is now managing a transitional house a mile away from the Hollywood and Vine metro station where he tried to commit suicide. He’s helping others recover from their addictions.