CARSON CITY, Nev. -- A witness who saw a semi-truck crash into an Amtrak train in the Nevada desert said the truck driver seemed unaware of the approaching passenger train despite flashing lights and a lowered cross arm at the rural train crossing, according to documents released Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The account was included in thousands of pages of documents released by the federal agency detailing the factual findings in its investigation into the June 24, 2011, crash 70 miles east of Reno that killed six and injured dozens. The train's conductor, South Lake Tahoe resident Laurette Lee, was among those killed.
At least 15 lawsuits have been filed in the fatal wreck, and four said the railroad crossing gates either came down late or not at all, the Reno Gazette-Journal has reported.
But according to the NTSB report, the witness - himself a truck driver with 54 years and over 5 million miles of experience - said he had been following the truck driven by Lawrence Villi , 43, for about 45 miles when they approached the railroad crossing on U.S. 95 north of Fallon.
The witness told NTSB investigators that Villi "was driving like he didn't see the train and lights that were flashing well before impact," the report said. The witness said he could see the train by the time he was one-quarter to one-half mile from the crossing. When he saw that Villi was not slowing down, the witness looked to see if the train warning was working and "he saw the lights flashing and saw the cross arm down."
The truck, owned by John Davis Trucking Co. of Battle Mountain, was traveling about 65 mph and just before impact he saw the truck brakes lock up and black smoke coming from the brakes, the witness said.
The report detailing factual findings does not address the cause of the crash or make any recommendations. Those will come at a later date.
NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said the federal board is expected to hold a hearing to review the investigative finding by the end of the year, though no date has been set.
- Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter Adam Jensen contributed to this story.