Jury awards millions

A federal jury has awarded more $4.5 million to Amtrak and an additional $210,000 to Union Pacific Railroad for an accident that occurred 35 miles north of Fallon in June 2011.

The Lahontan Valley News received the judgment issued in late August after a trial was held in U.S. District Court in Reno.

At about 11:19 a.m. on June 24, 2011, a 2008 Peterbilt hauling two side-dump trailers and heading north on U.S. Highway 95 approached the railroad crossing at about the same time a westbound Amtrak train No. 5, the California Zephyr, was also entering the crossing from the northeast.

The Amtrak train consisted — in descending order — two locomotive units, a baggage car, a crew car, three coach cars, a lounge car, a dining car and three sleeper cars.

Amtrak will receive most of the award for the damaged rail cars and $1.2 million earmarked for medical costs to passengers and employees.

In addition to the deaths of a train conductor and four passengers, the accident killed the truck driver, Larry Valli.

John Davis Trucking of Battle Mountain owned the truck and trailers. The damages resulted from the trucking company’s negligence, according to government reports, when the Peterbilt slammed into the passenger train.

According to the federal court document, the Battle Mountain firm could be forced to pay $5.7 million if a judge formalizes the jury verdict by the end of the month. The extra amount is for attorney fees and interest to the award.

Amtrak and Union Pacific both sued after a National Transportation Safety Board report in December 2012 concluded the accident could have been avoided.

The NTSB examining the collision at the train crossing concluded in 2012 the accident between the Amtrak passenger train and a tractor-trailer could have been prevented if the truck driver was not distracted and if the brakes on his rig worked properly.

The NTSB investigation also centered on Valli’s inattention to cellphone use, fatigue and the railroad crossing warnings before the accident.

Valli routinely used a cellphone while driving, the NTSB also reported. According to the report that covered eight hours before the accident, Valli made 30 outgoing calls, received one and allowed four to go to voicemail. An incoming call 2 minutes before impact went to voicemail.

Another NTSB report released in September 2012 stated the Amtrak engineer witnessed the accident and told the Nevada Department of Public Safety that the truck was approaching the crossing “at a high rate of speed, tires smoking.

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


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