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Amtrak Survivors recount Deadly Crash


As the train eased down the tracks, truck driver Valli, 43 of Winnemucca, were barreling in the trains’ direction, even as the crossing flashing lights warned him it was approaching.

“I looked up the north side and I saw smoke, and I looked down the other side, and I saw flames and the side of the train ripped back like a sardine can” said Jim Bickley, a property manager from El Dorado Hills, California. “People were trying to jump out of the emergency windows, and there was panic all around.”

Some of the passengers, like Hill, jumped through windows, to avoid the towering inferno bellowing into a double-decker car at a rural highway crossing just east of Reno on Friday.

Robert Hill’s mind keeps replaying the image from the smoke-filled Amtrak passenger car: He tried in vain to coax an elderly woman down from the upper deck after he escaped the burning train. “I was telling her to jump out the window, but she never did, and she went out of sight,” said Hill, a professor from Taylorsville, Miss., who survived the horrific collision between a tractor-trailer and an Amtrak train in Nevada’s high desert.

“I remember her frail arms hanging out the window. I’ll never know whether she made it out alive or not.”

About 20 people were injured in the crash, pulled to safety or left to stumble out of the burning wreckage into the desert, where they walked to the nearest road.

One passenger remained unaccounted for; investigators aren’t sure whether the person was on the train at the time of the impact.

At least five people aboard the California-bound Amtrak were killed, as was the truck driver. Among those killed were 58-year-old Francis Knox and 18-year-old daughter, Karly Knox, of Seward, Neb., the Nevada Highway Patrol said.

Marissa Knox escaped the train with no serious injuries said family spokesman Lowell Myers.

As federal investigators probe a football-field length of skid marks seeking to explain the truck driver’s last seconds, records released Monday paint a picture of a divorced father scraping by, who despite his years as a professional driver, had a spotty driving record in multiple states.

“At the time of the crash, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said Valli was going at a considerable speed” in a 70 mph zone before the crash, and added that federal investigators were examining the truck wheels, tires and brakes for details of the exact speed and the trucks braking capacity.

Forensic anthropologists, law enforcement officials and federal investigators have yet to pinpoint why the trucker, Valli, 43, of Winnemucca, kept bearing down in the train’s direction, even as the crossing’s flashing lights warned him it was approaching.

NTSB investigators said the train engineer saw the truck approaching. He slammed on the emergency brakes, but the train, which was going about 78 mph in an 80-mph zone, traveled another half mile before it finally stopped. The engineer watched through his rearview mirror as the truck smashed through the crossing’s warning gates and into one of the train’s 10 cars.

The 2008 Peterbilt tractor towing two empty side dump trailers hit the train so hard it embedded itself in the rail car.

Federal investigators, who located Valli’s cell phone in the rubble and will check it and call records to see if he might have been distracted, said the driver’s professional commercial driving record “is an area we will be taking a very close look at.”

Weener said it could take up to a year to pinpoint the cause of the crash.

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June 29, 2011 - Posted by | Community News | , , , , , , , , , ,

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