South Lake Tahoe resident killed in Amtrak crash
June 28, 2011
Laurette Lee, the conductor of the Amtrak train that collided Friday with a big-rig in Northern Nevada, moved to her quiet cabin near Sierra Boulevard two years ago from Contra Costa County. Lee, 68, the truck driver and four passengers, died in the crash.
Neighbors of Lee remember her as a strong, independent woman, who was eager to help and encourage others.
“We all miss her already,” said Jimi Lasquete, her next-door neighbor. “She was a great lady. She’d help anybody. She’d do anything for anybody. She was definitely special.”
Lasquete pointed to Lee’s still blooming flower garden, her work boots waiting on the porch and the generally tidy appearance of her property as evidence of her independent and hard-working nature.
“She put a sump pump under her house last month,” Lasquete said. “She chased raccoons out from under there. She did all that by herself.”
Across the street, Greg Gerringer remembered the 68-year-old shoveling the snow from her driveway.
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“I used to go over there and start shoveling, and she’d be like ‘No, I’ve got this,'” Gerringer said. “She was just a really nice gal.”
Lasquete recalled the last time he saw Lee. She had baked him cookies the Thursday before she left on the fateful trip.
“Since it happened, I come home and I always look for her truck,” Lasquete said. “It’s never there.”
As word of Lee’s passing has spread, online railroad forums have flooded with remembrances of the conductor.
“Laurette wanted nothing more than to be a conductor, and was very proud when she finally put on the blue uniform,” wrote one Trainorders.com poster who goes by the user-name Bullringer.
Another post shows a photo of a smiling Lee posing with her crew of five men nearly a head taller than her.
Laurette began with Amtrak in 1988, and worked her way up to conductor. Her family has a history of working in the railroad industry, according to information posted by the United Transportation Union, of which Lee was a member.
Her grandfather and great-grandfather were rail workers, according to UTU. Her brother is an Amtrak dispatcher and her nephew is a conductor out of San Jose. She had three children and five grandchildren, but she was considered a mother to many at Amtrak, said company spokesman Marc Magliari.
“She’s been described as a respected, no-nonsense professional, who was extremely compassionate, taking employees under her wing, serving as a mentor and coach, and willing to share everything she knew with those less experienced,” Magliari wrote in an e-mail.
The train Lee was conducting, the California Zephyr, was on its way to Emeryville, Calif. from Chicago. She was charged with the Winnemucca to Reno portion of the route.
Information regarding the cause of the collision is continually being released by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash. The organization has determined that crossing gates and blinking lights indicating the train’s passage were working correctly. After studying the crash site, the NTSB determined that the big-rig ran into the train after the train’s engines had passed the intersection.