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Death toll expected to rise in Amtrak collision

By Reuters
Saturday, June 25, 2011 22:34 EDT
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Federal transportation safety investigators on Saturday were investigating the Nevada crash between a tractor-trailer rig and an Amtrak train, where authorities believe more bodies may be found in the wreckage.

At least two people were confirmed killed and dozens injured in the Friday morning collision at a crossing of U.S. Route 95 near the town of Lovelock, about 70 miles east of Reno, the Nevada Highway Patrol said.

Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Dan Lopez said further fatalities may be discovered during a search that was proceeding slowly because the burned-out train cars were considered unstable and dangerous to enter.

“We know that people have seen bodies, but we can’t get to them in the wreckage,” Lopez said. “The biggest thing right now is the safety of the workers.”

The two people known to have died in the collision were the driver of the truck, which hauled gravel, and the train’s conductor, he said.

“Preliminary reports are that there have been fatalities to passengers, an Amtrak train crew member and the operator of the truck,” Amtrak said in a written statement, which seemed to raise the death toll at four or more.

A spokeswoman for the passenger rail line, which is partly owned by the U.S. government, declined to elaborate on the statement.

DRIVER TRIED TO STOP

Lopez said National Transportation Safety Board officials, who took over the investigation on Saturday, were trying to determine why the truck driver barreled through closed signal arms before smashing into the side of the train.

He said skid marks indicated that the driver had tried to stop in the seconds before impact.

The fiery crash sent a plume of black smoke billowing into the air over the scene.

“The truck did in fact strike the train at the fourth car and according to witness statements the gates and lights were operational,” Lopez said.

The injured were taken to local hospitals.

A spokeswoman for Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno said the hospital received nine people from the accident, including one listed in critical condition on Saturday.

A second patient was listed in serious condition and two were in fair condition, the spokeswoman said. Five others had been discharged.

Another 60 people were taken to Banner Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon, about 30 miles away, spokeswoman Aimee Fulk told Reuters.

The 10 most seriously hurt patients were admitted and treated in the hospital’s emergency room, she said, while the remaining 50 were treated for lesser injuries and released.

Fulk said she had no further information on the condition of the patients in the emergency room but was not aware of any life-threatening injuries among them.

Passengers who were not injured, some of whom spent the night in local shelters, were taken to their destinations by bus.

The westbound California Zephyr was en route from Chicago to Emeryville, California with 204 passengers and 14 crew members on board when it was hit.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)

Reuters
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