Lawyers claim railroad tampered with evidence

Two side cars from the Peterbilt tractor-trailer were stored in Fallon in 2011.

Two side cars from the Peterbilt tractor-trailer were stored in Fallon in 2011.

Lawyers representing a Battle Mountain trucking company, whose driver fatally plowed a tractor-trailer into an Amtrak passenger train north of Fallon in June 2011, are accusing two railroad companies of tampering with evidence in an accident that killed six people including five from the train.

Lawyers representing John Davis Trucking Co. claim they have evidence the companies tampered with a video of the crash and are hiding or have destroyed the crossing gate arm.

The lawyers claim video from the train’s camera (according to the Reno Gazette-Journal) was altered to make it look like the gate was working and say the gate arm has vanished.

Union Pacific strongly denies the allegations, while Amtrak declined to comment.

A National Transportation Safety Board examining the collision in the Nevada desert in June 2011 concluded 13 months ago the accident between an Amtrak passenger train and a tractor-trailer driven by Larry Valli, 43, could have been prevented if Valli was not distracted and if the brakes on his rig worked properly.

A third cause addressed by the safety board said the shortcoming in the passenger rail car side strength led to five deaths on the train. Board members also ruled out the possibility the crossing guard gate or warning lights malfunctioned.

In addition to Valli, the train’s conductor and four passengers died in the accident.

According to the NTSB after their investigation, witnesses both on board an Amtrak passenger train and in waiting vehicles at a railroad crossing 35 miles north of Fallon and south of the Trinity exit on Interstate 80 told investigators that the driver of a haul truck traveling north did not appear to slow down for the oncoming passenger train.

Since the collision occurred, at least 15 lawsuits have been filed.

From video and reports given to the NTSB from the Amtrak crew, the train’s horn sounded and the crossing gates were lowered to block highway traffic.

“The combination vehicle failed to stop before reaching the grade crossing and collided with the train,” reported the NTSB. “Tire marks from the rear of the combination vehicle were found in the northbound travel lane, beginning at a point about 247-299 feet prior to impact.”

The big rig’s impact into the Amtrak caused it to be embedded in the crew car. A fire ensued and consumed the Peterbilt, the crew car and a passenger car. Of the passengers on board, 63 travelers out of 195 received varying degrees of injuries. Most were transported by ambulance to Banner Churchill Community Hospital, but the most seriously injured were flown to area hospitals either by Care Flight or a U.S. Navy search and rescue helicopter from Naval Air Station Fallon.

The NTSB said the truck’s “black box” data recorder was too badly damaged to show the Peterbilt’s speed or the brake status at the time of the crash. Tests done later on the steering mechanism show Valli drove straight into the train. NTSB also said investigators found that while the truck’s tire tread and the inflation levels were within limits, it had defective brakes.

The Amtrak engineer witnessed the accident and told the Nevada Department of Public Safety the truck was approaching the crossing “at a high rate of speed, tires smoking.”


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