Truck driver in Amtrak crash had 5 traffic citations

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 27, 2011 6:58 PM
Truck driver in Amtrak crash had 5 traffic citations

By Timothy Pratt

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The truck driver who plowed into an Amtrak train in Nevada, killing himself and at least five others last Friday, had received five traffic citations while driving commercial vehicles during the past three years.

Three of those tickets were issued to Lawrence Valli, 43, for speeding at the wheel of a school bus in California, according to Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman Kevin Malone.

Valli also was cited for driving without a seat belt in California and for driving over the speed limit in Alabama. All five citations occurred between July 2008 and September 2009, Malone said on Monday.

News of Valli's DMV record followed the revelation the company which owned the tractor-trailer he was driving had been cited for seven violations stemming from random roadside inspections since September 2010.

But none of those cases involved the rig that slammed through railroad gates and into a passing Amtrak cross-country train early Friday, NTSB member Earl Weener told a news conference in Nevada on Sunday.

As of Monday, the official casualty toll from the fiery collision remained at six dead, including Valli and the train's conductor, with five other people missing and feared dead. Dozens more were injured.

Valli's truck, which was leading a convoy of three big rigs, was traveling at such a high rate of speed at the time of the impact that it embedded itself in the side of the train.

The collision occurred at a railroad crossing at U.S. Route 95, about 70 miles east of Reno.

Forensic anthropologists were expected to join officials from the Churchill County Coroner's Office on Monday as they continued to search for bodies in the second of two badly burned rail cars.

Weener said the NTSB has been in contact with the trucking company and was reviewing both the firm's records and those of the driver.

Investigators will examine the driver's health and medical history in addition to his training record and experience, he said. The NTSB will meet with the company on Tuesday.

The NTSB reported earlier that the truck driver slammed on his brakes just 320 feet before the rail crossing, apparently failing to see signs, flashing lights and closed signal arms.

Initial inspections have found the crossing signal was set to activate 25 seconds prior to the train's arrival, and would have been visible from half a mile away to a truck traveling at the speed limit of 70 miles per hour.

"The data so far indicates that all signals and gates were operating properly (and) there was excellent visibility of the track," Weener said.

Due to the severity of the damage, investigators didn't expect to be able to retrieve the truck's engine data recorder, which might yield key information.

Results of an autopsy and toxicology testing on the deceased driver are expected to take a number of days.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)