2011: A Look Back

By: Denise Wong Email
By: Denise Wong Email
Remains of the California Zephyr from fatal train crash in Fallon.

Remains of the California Zephyr from fatal train crash in Fallon.

FALLON, NV - In 2011, people in Northern Nevada have shown so much compassion and resilience in the light of unspeakable tragedy. One of those: the sudden crash of an Amtrak train and a tractor trailer just north of Fallon. Six people lost their lives when the incident happened in June. While it's been more than five months since the crash, the images are unforgettable.

At 11:25 am on June 24, 2011, Amtrak's California Zephyr was traveling from Chicago to Emeryville, California when there was a sudden crash, near Fallon. A big ball of fire ripped through the cars. Stunned passengers didn't even know yet that the train had been struck by a gravel truck on the track that crossed US 95.

"It was like a bomb exploded. Like a war zone, it was crazy. Bloody people everywhere," Justine Rhine had told KOLO 8 News Now that day. He was interviewed at EC Best Elementary in Fallon, just hours after the crash. It was at the elementary school where passengers were bussed so they could get food and water and contact family members. It was also where buses eventually showed up to take passengers to their destination or to another Amtrak station.

Rhine also recalled what he saw as he helped other passengers out of that burning train that day.

"I saw the people injured," he had said. "It was terrible Saw the truck driver who hit us. Terrible."

That truck driver, Lawrence Valli, was among the six people killed. Employed by John Davis Trucking out of Battle Mountain, investigators still don't know what caused him to slam into the train. Over the next week, authorities sifted through the rubble and tried to account for those who were missing as they identified the deceased.

"In 23 years, this is the worst accident I've worked on," Captain Jay Horsley of the Churchill County Sheriff's Office had told us that day. "The human aspect, reaching out to these families, trying to figure out who we're dealing with."

We later learned the crash had claimed the life of the train's conductor: Laurette Lee, 68, of South Lake Tahoe. Also, 34-year-old Cheuy Ong of Utah and Barbara Bell from England. 58-year-old Fran Knox and her granddaughter, Karly, were also on board. They were from Nebraska. Knox's husband is now suing John Davis Trucking. This is just one of several lawsuits filed since the tragedy.

The families of those who lost their lives want answers. And they may soon get them. Trooper Chuck Allen with the Nevada Highway Patrol says NHP is just about one with its investigation into the crash and will soon hand it off to the National Transportation Safety Board. It is unclear when details of NHP's investigation or the NTSB's own investigation will be released. But those results are expected in the coming months.


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