Truck Driver Killed in Utah Train-Trash Truck Collision

December 16, 2005

An Amtrak train collided with a semitrailer in southeastern Utah, killing the truck driver, injuring several Amtrak passengers and derailing the front wheel on the train’s lead engine, authorities said.

The California Zephyr was carrying 119 passengers from Emeryville, Calif., to Chicago on Wednesday when it hit the truck at a train crossing, just south of Interstate 70, about 46 miles east of Green River, said Amtrak Spokeswoman Vernae Graham. The crossing has only warning signs, said Graham, who is based in Oakland, Calif.

The train hit the truck, which was hauling trash, and traveled about one-half mile down the track before coming to a stop, said Chief Deputy Curt Brewer of the Grand County sheriff’s office. It appeared the truck was trying to cross the tracks in front of the approaching train, he said.

Crews used a crane to help remove part of the truck stuck under the train and the engine was replaced onto the tracks and continued east.

Killed in the crash was David Miller, 26, of Clifton, Colo., and his truck was owned by Roustabout Specialties in Grand Junction, Colo., the sheriff’s office said.

Brewer said five people on the train suffered minor injuries. One of them was sent to a Moab hospital for evaluation.

The Federal Railroad Administration decided Wednesday night it will investigate the wreck, said Spokesman Steve Kulm. The agency does not investigate all train crashes.

Typically, there has to be a large number of fatalities or a heightened public interest for the administration to investigate if there are no train crossing signals under the agency’s jurisdiction at the crash site, he said. Kulm did not say specifically why the agency chose to investigate this case.

“There were some injuries to passengers there and my understanding is the locomotive derailed in a sense that one wheel came off the track,” Kulm said. “We’ve just made the decision to go forward on this.”

In a typical investigation, federal officials will examine a locomotive record that’s similar to an airplane’s black box, examine track conditions and speak with any additional witnesses, Kulm said.

Utah Department of Public Safety truck inspectors have been asked to help with the investigation, said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Doug McCleve. Inspectors will determine if the truck’s brakes and other mechanical systems were functioning properly.

There had been 26 train wrecks this year in Utah through September, the most recent statistics available from the Federal Railroad Administration. Only one of those accidents involved a passenger train.

Seven passengers were hurt in the May crash of the Heber Valley Railroad in Wasatch County near Charleston.

In January, the California Zephyr derailed in Colorado near the Utah line. The train was carrying more than 100 people when it ran into a pickup-size boulder. Six people were hurt, none seriously.

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