RENO, Nev. (CN) – A 2011 fireball that killed six people, caused by a truck slamming into Amtrak’s California Zephyr, will cost a Nevada trucking company more than $4.55 million in damages, a federal jury ruled.
Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed the June 24 accident at a rail crossing on U.S. 95, about 70 miles east of Reno, on poor maintenance and inattentive driving.
John Davis Trucking, of Battle Mountain, Nev., disabled the anti-lock braking system on the trailers, did not properly adjust the brakes, used axles that were not properly matched to brake components and had 11 of 16 brake-drum surfaces worn beyond their designated service limitation, the NTSB reported.
“Although we’ll never know the exact cause of the truck driver’s inattention, we do know that if John Davis Trucking had provided its driver with a safe and properly maintained vehicle, this accident could have been avoided,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement.
The company’s driver, Lawrence Valli, 43, of Winnemucca, Nev., died instantly after his truck skidded some 320 feet, crashing through safety rails and into a double-deck Amtrak passenger rail car.
Local news reports indicate the truck caused a ball of fire upon impact, killing five people aboard the train and injuring several others.
The NTSB found that Valli was fatigued when the accident occurred, using a cellphone and driving with a bad ankle though a doctor had ordered him to take time off work.
Valli waited too long to brake, and when he did, the brakes weren’t in good enough condition to prevent the accident, according to the NTSB report. Federal investigators also said the railcar’s side impact strength was too weak and contributed to the deaths and extent of injuries.
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak, waited just a week to sue John Davis Trucking in Washoe County District Court. The matter was removed to the courtroom of U.S. Judge Howard McKibben who presided over a jury trial in August.
On Friday, a jury awarded Amtrack more than $4.55 million and the Union Pacific Railroad more than $210,000.
The jury denied John Davis Trucking’s counterclaims.
Benjamin Hutchinson of Lombardi, Loper & Conant in Oakland, Calif., represented Amtrak. Kristen Chambers of Kirklin, Thompson & Pope in Portland, Ore., represented John Davis Trucking.
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