Man Jailed After Car Is Hit by Train, Killing 4
The New York Times
Saturday, April 22, 2000
A man who the police said rammed his former
girlfriend's car into the path of a train, killing her and three others,
was arrested today and charged with homicide.
The woman, Candace Wertz, had made a frantic 911 call
on her cellular phone and was talking to a dispatcher when the train hit
her car on Thursday, the police said.
Her former boyfriend, Carlos Angel Diaz Santiago, 22,
of West Reading, Pa., was arrested this morning.
Ms. Wertz, 20, and her 2-year-old son, John Michael
Cortez, died in the crash, as did Cynthia Jacques, 22, and her daughter,
Man Used Train to Murder Ex-Girlfriend
Man Killed Four By Shoving Car into Train's Path
By Gina Cappello -
January 23, 2001
A man angered because his former girlfriend ended
their relationship has been convicted of pushing her car into the path
of a freight train, killing her and three others.
Carlos Angel Diaz, of West Reading, was found guilty
Monday of four counts of third-degree murder in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend,
Candace Wertz, another woman and their two toddlers. If convicted of
first-degree murder, he could have been sentenced to death.
Diaz, 23, bowed his head as the verdict was read. His
mother held her head down and sobbed; the victims' families choked back
tears but otherwise said nothing.
"We know, we have no doubt in our mind that he didn't
do that," Diaz's sister, Liz Ruiz, said outside the courtroom.
Wertz's sister, Shelly Wendeln, issued a statement on
behalf of her family.
"We feel the third-degree does not reflect true
justice but it will keep Carlos Diaz away from the public," she said.
Diaz was also convicted of aggravated assault,
reckless endangerment and risking a catastrophe. He could be sentenced
to 20 to 40 years in prison for each of the four murder convictions;
sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 31.
The jury deliberated three days before reaching its
verdict. Jurors refused to speak to reporters as they left the
The prosecution has said Diaz rammed Wertz's car
after chasing her at speeds of up to 60 mph because he was upset she had
broken up with him. A one-year protection-from-abuse order that Wertz
obtained against Diaz expired 20 days before her death.
"We're satisfied with the verdict. We wish it was
first-degree but this is fair based on the evidence," District Attorney
Mark Baldwin said. "We find this a victory in this case."
Defense attorney Allan L. Sodomsky was pleased the
jury rejected the first-degree murder charges.
"People automatically decided that Diaz deserved the
death penalty. If you're interested in this case, you know what really
happened," Sodomsky said. "The jury listened to everything."
Sodomsky had claimed the April 20 crash in the
Reading suburb of Sinking Spring was accidental.
But a passenger in Diaz's car at the time of the
crash testified that Diaz purposely rammed Wertz's car onto the tracks.
Michael Ortega said Diaz pushed the accelerator on his car as the
8,000-ton Norfolk Southern train approached.
"He said 'Where you going to go, you bitch? The
train's coming. You can't do nothing now,"' Ortega testified. "He was
really angry, his face was red, his veins were bulging."
Killed were Wertz, 20; her 2-year-old son John
Michael Cortez; Cynthia Jacques, 22; and her daughter Allisa, 2.
The deaths happened three months after Diaz was
released from serving a four- to 23-month prison sentence for a parole
The trial began Jan. 8. The jury of six men and six
women was picked in Northampton County because Berks County President
Judge Albert A. Stallone ruled that heavy news coverage in Berks would
make it hard to find an impartial jury there.
Life Sentence in Train-Track Deaths
Los Angeles Times
February 01, 2001
A man was sentenced to 160 years in prison for
killing four people, including his girlfriend and her toddler son, by
ramming their car into the path of a freight train.
Carlos Angel Diaz Santiago, 23, of West Reading, told
the Reading court he regretted the gruesome deaths last April of his
girlfriend, Candace Wertz, 20; her 2-year-old son, John Cortez; Wertz's
friend, Cynthia Jacques, 22; and Jacques' 2-year-old daughter, Allisa.
Diaz, who was convicted on four counts of third-degree
murder last week, got the maximum penalty. He was seen arguing with
Wertz before killing her.
Carlos A. Díaz Santiago
Sinking Spring, PA -- April 21, 2000
The man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, another
woman and two children by ramming their car into the path of a freight
train in Sinking Spring was apprehended in Reading.
Carlos A. Diaz-Santiago, 22, was found by city police
in a house, after police received tips as to his whereabouts.
Diaz-Santiago rammed a car driven by Candace Wertz,
20, onto railroad tracks that cross Columbia Avenue near the Sinking
Spring Elementary School, state police said.
An eastbound Norflok-Southern train smashed into the
car, killing Wertz, of 1053 Penn Ave., Sinking Spring; her son, John M.
Cortez, 2; a friend, Cynthia Jacques, 22, of 1110 Broadway Ave., Stony
Creek Mills; and her daughter, Alissa, 2.
All but the infant girl were thrown from the car when
it was struck by the train.
Cynthia Jacques and John Cortez were certified
dead at the scene by Berks County First Deputy Coroner Brian K. Houp;
Alissa Jacques was taken to Reading Hospital, where she was
certified dead by emergency room staff; and Candace Wertz was flown
to Brandywine Hospital, near Coatesville, were she died shortly
after arrival in the emergency room, officials said.
Diaz-Santiago turned around and drove away from the
wreckage. The car he drove was located about an hour later in northwest
Reading by city police, investigators said.
Diaz-Santiago, a resident of the 400 block of
Chestnut Street, West Reading, and a second man in the car were taken
into custody without incident, police said.
Wertz and Diaz-Santiago had a prior relationship and
she had obtained a Protection-From-Abuse order against him, but it had
apparently expired, according to Lt. Edward H. Snyder, the commander of
the Criminal Investigations division of Reading based Troop L.
Troopers were about to get a warrant signed for Diaz-Santiago
when he was found, officials said.
The charges include homicide, aggravated assault
and risking a catastrophe, according to Snyder.
Authorities gave this account:
Wertz and Diaz-Santiago became involved in a vehicle
chase starting near the McDonald's restaurant at routes 422 and 724.
Wertz then drove onto Columbia Avenue from 422.
At the time, Wertz made a frantic cellular phone call
to the Berks County Communications Center. She remained on the telephone
with a call-taker about five minutes until the car was pushed into the
path of the train.
When Wertz's car reached the railroad crossing, the
gates were down and four other cars were waiting for the train.
Wertz drove into the oncoming lane and stopped short
of the tracks, then Diaz-Santiago's car struck the rear of hers, pushing
her car closer to the tracks.
Diaz-Santiago again rammed Wertz's car, pushing it
into the path of the train.
Cynthia Jacques had opened the passenger side front
door and was trying to get out when the train hit the car.
The eastbound train was traveling about 40 mph on the
middle set of tracks when the impact occurred, investigators said. The
car was pushed about 50 yards before it was thrown onto a parallel track.
Diaz-Santiago turned around and headed back on
Columbia Avenue toward Penn Avenue, knocking over a street sign as he
swerved onto the sidewalk to get around a stopped vehicle.
Several witnesses got the license plate number of the
car and it was traced to an address in the 600 block of Weiser Street.
A friend had loaned the car to Diaz-Santiago, but
Snyder did not release his name or the name of the friend in the car.
Police said the train engineer tried to stop the
train. The engine came to a halt about a quarter-mile away on a bridge
over Route 724.
Harry Reichert, terminal trainmaster at the Reading
office of Norfolk Southern Railroad, said the train's crew was removed
soon after the accident and was replaced when the train was moved.
"The crew was really shook up," Reichert said. "This
was a horrible, horrible tragedy."
Joe Arbogast of West Lawn was sitting in his car at
the Hull Street crossing about 300 yards east of the Columbia Avenue
crossing waiting for the train to pass when he saw it stop.
"I thought that was strange, so I got out and looked,"
When Arbogast looked down the tracks, he saw three of
the victims lying on the railroad tracks.
"I ran to the boy and a woman, and they weren't
breathing," he said. "Then I saw another girl, and I went to her, and
she was semi-conscious. I tried to help her move, and I talked to her to
comfort her until emergency people arrived. Then I prayed. It's really
Arbogast said he was unaware another person was
trapped in the car.
April 22, 2000 --
Friends and family say the final
terrifying moments of Candace Wertz's life followed five years of abuse
from the boyfriend suspected of using his car to push hers in front of a
"It's so horrible that no one was able to get to her
in time to help," said Tammy Wertz, Candace Wertz's sister-in-law. "But
something should have been done about this guy a long time ago. She
tried to get away from him and she just couldn't."
On Saturday, several sources revealed the contents of
Wertz's frantic 911 call made before she was struck by the train
Driving her car at high speeds through a residential
neighborhood, Wertz grabbed her cell phone and desperately told a 911
operator to send police because her ex-boyfriend was chasing her.
With the shrieking of tires coming to a halt in the
background, Wertz told the operator that she had a protective order
against the man pursuing her, but that it had expired.
The roar of three giant crashes then overwhelms
Wertz's voice and she screams something about the window cracking.
Finally, the phone goes dead.
"Her boyfriend was banging into her car as she was
talking. It sounded like he took off her side mirror," Eric Olena,
assistant director of the 911 center, said in Saturday's Reading Eagle.
"She sounded panicky. You could tell it was serious."
Wertz had stopped at the railroad crossing to let the
train pass and was just blocks away from a police station near Reading,
about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
All on board Wertz's car -- her 2-year-old son, John
Michael Cortez; Cynthia Jacques, 22; and Jacques' daughter Allissa, 2 --
were killed in the crash.
Carlos Angel Diaz Santiago, 22, was arrested Friday
and charged with four counts of murder and aggravated assault.
Another dispatcher who heard a tape of the call said
Wertz never gave enough detail for police to locate her.
The tape of the five-minute conversation reveals
the two women in the car were trying to keep their crying children
calm. Police believe the crashes heard on the tape are Santiago
pushing Wertz's car onto the train track. A scream follows, then the
phone went silent.
Eileen Myers, 65, who owns a coffee shop in the
shopping center beneath Wertz's apartment, said she felt Wertz had been
in mortal danger for months.
"It's one of those things where you
wished you had known what to do, but there weren't any easy answers,"
Jan. 9, 2001
A Berks County
man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and three others by pushing her
car into an oncoming freight train was enraged because she had broken
off their relationship, a prosecutor said Monday.
Carlos Angel Diaz, 22, went on
trial on four counts of homicide and other charges in the April 20
deaths of his ex-girlfriend Candace Wertz, another woman and their two
"Candace Wertz was trying to end
a relationship. She was trying to break free of the defendant and start
life anew," Berks County District Attorney Mark. C. Baldwin said. "The
defendant didn't want the relationship to end."
Diaz has pleaded innocent. His
lawyer, Allan L. Sodomsky, deferred his opening statement until after
the prosecution presents its case. He has maintained that the crash was
Before the jury was brought in
the courtroom, President Judge Albert A. Stallone ruled that a tape of a
frantic 911 call Wertz made from her cell phone just before the crash
was admissible as evidence. The tape was played for the jury Monday
On it, a 911 operator could be
heard unsuccessfully trying to figure out Wertz's location as she sped
through suburban Reading streets, followed by Diaz.
"We need help. There is a car
trying to run us off the road," Wertz told the 911 dispatcher. "We have
children in the car and he's trying to run us off the road."
The 911 call was placed at 4:38
p.m., about seven minutes before her car was hit by the train.
Baldwin said Diaz had been
looking for Wertz all afternoon — growing angrier with each passing
minute — and began the chase after he spotted her car.
The chase reached speeds of 60
miles per hour as Diaz pursued Wertz for about 30 minutes through
Sinking Spring, a town of about 2,400 people located 50 miles northwest
of Philadelphia, and surrounding areas.
Wertz finally stopped her car at
the railroad tracks in Sinking Spring to wait for an oncoming freight
train. Diaz allegedly maneuvered his car behind hers.
Baldwin said a passenger in
Diaz's car, Michael Ortega, will testify that Diaz said of Wertz, "Where
you going to go you bitch? The train's coming."
At that point, Baldwin said, "Diaz
gripped the wheel, pushed the accelerator and pushed Candace's Ford
Tempo into a moving freight train."
David Bingaman, a prosecution
witness, said he saw Diaz chasing Wertz in the nearby borough of West
"The driver was screaming. He
was yelling. His hands were waving," Bingaman said.
About 15 minutes later, Bingaman
came upon the train crossing in Sinking Spring, saw two large clouds of
dust, then watched Diaz flee the scene in his car.
Bingaman said he walked to the
tracks and saw two women and a child lying near them.
"Someone said they were dead,"
Killed were Wertz; her 2-year-old
son, John Michael Cortez; Cynthia Jacques, 22; and her daughter Allissa,
In the courtroom Monday, the
victims' relatives packed one side of room and several of Diaz's
relatives sat on the other side.
The jury of six
men and six women was brought in from Northampton County because of
heavy news coverage in Berks County. The jurors are being bused home
each night, although Stallone could decide to sequester them at any
Jan. 12, 2001 --
Ignoring her frantic pleas to stop, Carlos Diaz
rammed his ex-girlfriend's car, then methodically pushed it into the
path of an oncoming freight train, Diaz's passenger testified Thursday.
Diaz uttered chilling words as he pushed the
accelerator of his Honda Accord, said Michael Ortega, who was Diaz's
sole passenger that day.
"He said, 'Where you going to go, you (expletive)?
The train's coming. You can't do nothing now,"' Ortega told a transfixed
courtroom. "He was really angry, his face was red, his veins were
Diaz, 23, faces the death penalty if found guilty of
killing his ex-girlfriend Candace Wertz, another woman and their two
toddlers in the April 20 crash near Reading. The defense has maintained
the crash was accidental, while prosecutors say Diaz rammed Wertz's car
because he couldn't accept that their relationship was over.
Killed were Wertz; her 2-year-old son, John Michael
Cortez; Cynthia Jacques, 22; and her daughter Allissa, 2.
Defense attorney Allan L. Sodomsky immediately
attacked Ortega's credibility, pointing out several discrepancies
between Thursday's testimony and Ortega's initial statement to police
the day after the crash.
For example, Ortega testified that Wertz pleaded with
Diaz to stop pushing the car.
"She said, 'Stop, I give up!"' Ortega said. "It was
summertime, the windows were down, she was yelling it."
Under cross-examination, however, Ortega admitted his
statement to police did not mention Wertz asking Diaz to stop.
Ortega also admitted he never called 911 or an
ambulance and remained with Diaz until the morning after the crash, when
police took them both into custody. Ortega was not charged.
Ortega is expected to take the stand again Friday. He
glared at Diaz as he left the courtroom. Diaz remained expressionless
throughout the day.
Prosecutors also played phone messages Diaz left in
the minutes before the crash on Wertz's voice mail and on the answering
machine of Cynthia Jacques.
In an ominous, highly excited voice, Diaz told Wertz
and Jacques to "go to hell," then added: "We're going to see how tough
you all are."
Jan. 17, 2001 --
In a stunning development Tuesday, a nurse who says
she had a clear view of a crash that killed four people testified she
never saw Carlos Diaz bump his ex-girlfriend's car into the path of an
oncoming freight train.
Reading Hospital nurse Sherree Kelley contradicted
the testimony of the prosecution's primary witness, Michael Ortega, who
was Diaz's passenger that day and claimed that Diaz rammed Candace
Wert's car, then pushed it onto the tracks in front of the Norfolk
Southern train last April 20.
Diaz, 23, is charged with four counts of homicide in
the crash that killed Wertz, her friend and their two toddlers.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Kelley cried as she described seeing bodies flying
through the air as the train hit Wertz's car.
"I saw the two women (sitting) in the front of the
car, then they flew out of the car," said Kelley, whose car was first in
line at the train crossing in Sinking Spring, about 50 miles northwest
Kelley said she saw Wertz's car drifting onto the
tracks while Wertz was looking over her left shoulder at Diaz's Honda
Accord. Wertz never looked forward before the train hit her, Kelley said.
In his cross examination, Berks County District
Attorney Mark Baldwin introduced slightly contradictory statements that
Kelley reportedly made to state police the night of the crash.
Trooper Emmanuel DeLeon Jr., who helped interview
Kelley that night, testified she said she was "fixated on the first
vehicle and did not notice whether the second vehicle hit the first
Baldwin asked Kelley if she remembered telling police
"I don't know what I said, sir," Kelley replied.
The prosecution has said Diaz rammed his ex-girlfriend's
car after chasing her for half an hour at speeds of up to 60 mph because
he was upset Wertz had broken up with him.
Killed were Wertz, her 2-year-old son John Michael
Cortez, Cynthia Jacques, 22, and her daughter Allisa, 2.
In his opening statement Tuesday, given a week into
the trial, defense attorney Allan L. Sodomsky said Kelley had "no ax to
grind, nothing to hide" and asked the jury to "keep an open mind until
you've heard everything."
Sodomsky called an accident reconstructionist later
Tuesday, who testified that the Diaz's Honda could not have been within
three feet of Wertz's vehicle at the time of the crash. The Honda would
have sustained significant damage as the 8,000-ton train roared by at 47
mph, Carmen Daecher said.
Further, Diaz's car could not have had any prolonged
contact with Wertz's because there was no "scrubbing effect" on either
car's bumper, said Daecher, who conceded under cross examination that
the cars may have bumped briefly at some point.
The defense rested its case Tuesday afternoon and
closing arguments were scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Talking to reporters during a break, Diaz's sister
said she thought the defense had gone well and that she believed Diaz's
version of events.
Liz Ruiz said she talks to Diaz every day and tells
him to remain confident.
"We truly believe in the justice system and we know
my brother's going to be all right. He told us he didn't do nothing and
we believe in him," she said.
In Spanish, Diaz's mother Haydee Santiago said she
thought "God was doing his work to bring the truth to light."
Also Tuesday, a man who sold the Honda to Diaz's
brother-in-law said the front bumper had been cracked before the crash.
Eric Rodriguez said the crack happened while he was the car's owner. The
prosecution maintained the bumper was damaged in the collision with
Wertz's rear bumper.
Jan. 24, 2001 --
A Pennsylvania man was convicted of four counts of
third-degree murder for flying into a rage over being dumped, engaging
his girlfriend in a high-speed car chase and then pushing her vehicle in
front of a train, killing her, her son and two other people.
The jury convicted Carlos Diaz, 23, of West Reading,
after deliberating for three days, rejecting defense arguments that the
deaths April 20, 2000, resulted from an accident when Diaz inadvertently
rear-ended the car driven by Candace Wertz, 20, who had stopped at a
train crossing in the Reading suburb of Sinking Spring.
Diaz will be sentenced Jan. 31. He faces 20 to 40
years on each third-degree murder count.
The prosecution had sought the death penalty,
charging that Diaz rammed Wertz's car after chasing her at speeds of up
to 60 mph because he was enraged by her breaking off their relationship.
A jury of six men and six women was selected from
Northampton County in Pennsylvania because of a ruling that heavy news
coverage in Berks County had tainted the jury pool there.
The jurors heard conflicting testimony. A passenger
in the Diaz car said the defendant uttered expletives as he rammed the
Wertz car, while a witness in another car said she saw no contact
between the two vehicles.
Feb. 2, 2001 --
A West Reading man yesterday was given the maximum
penalty - a virtual life sentence - for pushing his former girlfriend's
car into the path of a freight train, killing the woman and three others.
Carlos Diaz, 23, stood with his head bowed in Berks
County Court as President Judge Albert A. Stallone issued the sentence
of 80 to 160 years in prison.
"You already got the greatest mercy; your life has
been spared. But you will not get any mercy or leniency from me,"
On April 20, Diaz used his sister's white Honda
Accord to push Candace Wertz's car into the path of an 8,000-ton freight
train traveling at 57 m.p.h. through Sinking Spring, a Reading suburb.
County prosecutors charged Diaz with first-degree
murder, but on Jan. 22 a jury found Diaz guilty of four counts of third-degree
murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and causing and
risking a catastrophe.
Yesterday, Diaz spoke for the first time during the
trial and expressed remorse. With his hands and feet shackled, Diaz
leaned forward to speak into a microphone at the defense table.
"I never wanted anyone to die because of my actions,"
he said. "I couldn't apologize enough and I know my apologies won't take
back April 20, 2000. I'm truly, truly sorry for everything that has
Killed were Wertz, 20, of West Reading; her son, John
Michael Cortez, 2; her friend Cynthia Jacques, 22, of Exeter Township;
and Jacques' daughter, Alissa, 2. Family members said that Wertz had an
abusive relationship with Diaz and that Diaz was enraged that Wertz was
leaving him to move to Shippensburg to live with her sister.
During yesterday's sentencing hearing, members of the
Wertz and Jacques families tearfully took the stand to plead for a life
sentence for Diaz, while Diaz's family begged for a term that would mean
that Diaz could one day be released.
Diaz's mother, Haydee Santiago, had to be held back
from charging toward members of the Jacques family after the sentencing.
Later, Santiago collapsed and paramedics took her to a hospital, where
she was treated.
John Cortez, the father of 2-year-old John Michael "J.J."
Cortez, could barely contain his rage when he took the stand. Cortez had
just lifted his hand from the Bible when he yelled expletives at Diaz.
"Life is too good for him," Cortez said. ". . . I
can't sleep. Nothing matters. The only thing I had that was good, he
Diaz watched intently during the hearing as members
of the Wertz and Jacques families recounted the effect the deaths have
had on their lives, but lowered his head and wept as his mother, father
and other members of his family tearfully asked the court to issue a
sentence that would give them hope.
"I know whatever happened wasn't meant to happen,"
said Liz Ruiz, Diaz's sister. "If we don't have a chance to be with our
brother again, I don't know what will happen to our family."
Diaz legally would not be eligible for parole for 80
After the sentencing, defense attorney Allan L.
Sodomsky said: "Obviously, this is not what we wanted.
"But we were prepared for this. We knew this was a
possibility, so we are trying to understand."
Some members of the Wertz and Jacques families said
they were pleased with the sentence.
"The judge did a great justice," said Cynthia
Jacques' mother, Bernice. "Just like I've always said, the day he took
their lives was the day he took his own."
The demolished car after the fatal train collision.