RENO, Nev. (AP) — Four lawsuits filed on behalf of victims of last year's Amtrak-truck crash in northern Nevada claim railroad crossing gates either came down late or not at all.
The children of an Amtrak conductor killed in the June 24, 2011, crash and three injured passengers filed the lawsuits Thursday in Washoe County District Court.
The complaints allege the railroad companies used a defective rail crossing warning signal and the Nevada Department of Transportation failed to post effective warning signs for motorists, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported (http://on.rgj.com/LGrvZt ).
Trucker Lawrence Valli of John Davis Trucking Co. of Battle Mountain skidded and crashed into Amtrak's westbound California Zephyr in the desert about 70 miles east of Reno. Valli, conductor Laurette Lee and four passengers died, and some 100 people were injured.
Lawyer Jay Sullivan, who filed the four suits, said photographs show the crossing gate in Valli's direction of travel "was not broken off," and that raises the question of when the crossing gate dropped.
"There's credible evidence that the gates came down late or not at all," he said. "A late deployment of the crossing gate would help explain why Mr. Valli drove his truck into the train."
Robert Comer of Magnolia, Ohio, a forensic investigator who has reviewed 300 railroad crossing accidents nationwide over 23 years, agreed the crossing gate in Valli's direction of travel was intact after the crash.
"If the gate had been down at the time of the crash, Mr. Valli's truck and trailers would have hit it and smashed it. But that didn't happen," Comer said.
The suits also ask the court to force the state transportation department to install advance railway crossing warning signs and rumble strips to warn motorists of trains. They also seek a reduction in the speed limit from 70 mph to 50 mph at the crash site on U.S. 95.
The suits refer to a Gazette-Journal investigation published Sunday on the anniversary of the crash. The newspaper found that despite numerous reports of close calls by engineers at the rural crossing, the department has not made any safety improvements at the site.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari declined to comment on the suits.
"We will file a response through the proper legal channels at the appropriate time but not before," he said.
Officials for the state transportation department and Union Pacific said they do not comment on pending litigation.
The latest suits were filed by Lee's children, and by passengers Bryan and Rachel Bolingbroke of Tremonton, Utah, and Hailey Loeffler of Crested Butte, Colo.
They bring to 15 the number of suits filed in response to the crash.