Bad truck brakes blamed for Nevada Amtrak crash

RENO, Nev. (AP) — An inattentive trucker with a history of speeding violations driving a tractor-trailer with faulty brakes was the probable cause of a fatal collision with an Amtrak train that left six people dead in northern Nevada last year, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Tuesday.

On a 5-0 vote, the panel also agreed the weakness of passenger car walls likely contributed to the number of deaths and more than a dozen injuries after the truck skidded 300 feet into the train at a rural crossing on June 24, 2011. It recommended new strength standards be developed.

NTSB investigators said the truck driver apparently didn’t notice the train because he was fatigued as a result of inconsistent sleeping patterns, was suffering from ankle pain or possibly could have been checking messages on his cellphone. But the panel decided there wasn’t enough evidence of any of those things to include in the formal probable cause finding issued during a hearing in Washington.

Board members also ruled out the possibility the crossing guard gate or warning lights malfunctioned after time-lapsed photography showed the gate fully extended four seconds before the crash. Monitoring equipment also indicated the warning lights were flashing and the gate in place 18 seconds before the collision when the truck was still 900 feet away from the crossing.

The truck driver, Larry Valli, 43, was killed along with the train’s conductor and four passengers.

NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said Valli had plenty of opportunity to see and react to the lights.

“This accident could have easily been prevented if the driver had acted appropriately or the motor carrier had acted responsibly in maintaining the vehicle,” she said at the close of the nearly three-hour long hearing.

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