NTSB Investigation Blames AMTRAK Crash On Faulty Brakes, Driver

Remains of the California Zephyr from fatal train crash in Fallon.
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FALLON, NV - June 24, 2011, a tractor trailer slammed into a passing AMTRAK train at a crossing on U-S 95 north of Fallon. A crew member, four passengers and the truck driver were killed. A number of others were injured.

Tuesday, almost 18 months to the day of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its final report on the accident.

Preliminary reports gave conflicting views whether the crossing was working properly that day and there was reason to raise those questions. As KOLO 8 News Now has reported witnesses had seen the crossing fail both before and after the accident.

But evidence studied by investigators and presented at Tuesday's hearing, including time-lapse video, showed the crossing was operating.

That left the focus on the truck, owned by John Davis Trucking of Battle Mountain and its driver, Lawrence Valli.

The investigators conclusion was that it took mistakes by both to cause the accident.

An animation used at the hearing illustrated the truck and train speeding toward their fatal collision.

At 30 seconds before the crash, the crossing was activated, the lights were working. The truck continues at 60 miles and hour, the train 77.

Three hundred feet from the crossing Valli hits the brakes on his truck. The truck was still skidding as it slammed into the train.

Investigators could offer no explanation why Valli didn't react sooner. He had been talking on his cell phone earlier, but not at the time of the crash. He may have been fatigued and was working with a hurt ankle despite a doctor's advice.

But NTSB Chair Debbie Hersman told KOLO 8 News Now, even given Valli's apparent delayed reaction, he could have stopped in time if his brakes had been working properly.

Investigators say nine of the 16 brakes on the tractor trailer combination were either out of adjustment or in operative. The vehicle's anti-lock braking system wasn't working. Eleven of the brakes had worn drums.

And, they said, it's likely Valli would not have known about the faulty brakes until he needed them.

he conclusion: the fatal crash was caused by a combination of a delayed reaction by the driver and failure by John Davis Trucking to maintain the brakes on his truck.

The NTSB approved a number of recommendations including better standards and inspection of maintenance on commercial vehicles, better tracking of drivers' employment records and new side-impact standards for passenger train cars.

Our call to the attorney representing the trucking company was not returned.

A number of lawsuits have been filed in the wake of the accident.