County transit employee among 3 killed in Amtrak train derailment in Washington state

PHOTO: Cars from an Amtrak train lay spilled onto Interstate 5 below as some remain on the tracks above, Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.PlayElaine Thompson/AP
WATCH At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails

A county transit employee and a former Washington Transportation Department civil engineer were two of the three people killed when an Amtrak train derailed in Washington state Monday.

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The Monday morning crash killed three people and injured many more when it derailed going over a bridge near Dupont, Washington, landing on the highway below.

PHOTO: An aerial image made from video shows the scene of the Amtrak Cascades 501 train derailment at I5 south of Tacoma in Washington state, Dec. 18, 2017.
KOMO
An aerial image made from video shows the scene of the Amtrak Cascades 501 train derailment at I5 south of Tacoma in Washington state, Dec. 18, 2017.

One victim was Zack Willhoite, an IT customer service support specialist with Pierce Transit, his employer said. Willhoite had worked there since 2008, Pierce Transit said.

"He has always been deeply appreciated and admired by his colleagues, and played an important role at our agency," Pierce Transit said. "He will be sincerely missed. Our thoughts are with Zack’s family, as well as the families of the other victims, during this very difficult time."

PHOTO: Zack Willhoite (right, with wife Taylor Tomblin) was one of the fatalities in the derailment of an Amtrak train in Washington State on Dec. 18, 2017.Courtesy family photo
Zack Willhoite (right, with wife Taylor Tomblin) was one of the fatalities in the derailment of an Amtrak train in Washington State on Dec. 18, 2017.

Chris Karnes, chair of Pierce Transit's advisory board, tweeted that Willhoite was a "rail aficionado" who "helped our advisory committee with IT issues, and behind the scenes he was a writer and advocate for better transit for all."

PHOTO: A worker walks along a damaged train car atop a flat bed trailer taken from the scene of Mondays deadly Amtrak train crash onto Interstate 5, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.Elaine Thompson/AP
A worker walks along a damaged train car atop a flat bed trailer taken from the scene of Monday's deadly Amtrak train crash onto Interstate 5, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.

Another victim was Jim Hamre, his niece Rachel Topper said, according to The Associated Press. Hamre worked as a Washington Transportation Department civil engineer until he retired a few years ago, said Lloyd Flem, executive director All Aboard Washington, according to the AP.

Topper wrote on Facebook, "My uncle Jim will be missed by so many. We are all very heart broken."

The third victim was Benjamin Christian Gran, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner.

PHOTO: Investigators work at the scene of a Amtrak train derailment on Dec. 18, 2017 in DuPont, Wash.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Investigators work at the scene of a Amtrak train derailment on Dec. 18, 2017 in DuPont, Wash.

PHOTO: Seats are jammed together with other debris on an upside-down Amtrak train car sitting on a flat bed trailer taken from the scene of Mondays deadly crash onto Interstate 5, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.Elaine Thompson/AP
Seats are jammed together with other debris on an upside-down Amtrak train car sitting on a flat bed trailer taken from the scene of Monday's deadly crash onto Interstate 5, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.

Here's what we know about the deadly train crash:

-The train was making its inaugural ride on the route from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. The track had recently been upgraded from a freight line to allow for passenger trains.

-The train's emergency brake was automatically activated as the accident occurred and was not initiated by the conductor, said NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr in a press conference Tuesday evening.

-An extra conductor was in the cab at the time of the crash to familiarize him or herself with the new route, Dinh-Zarr said. In addition to the conductor who was driving the train, a third conductor was in the passenger section, collecting tickets and doing other conductor duties, she said.

-Testing on the new route started in January, and crews began operating non-revenue trains down the tracks for two weeks prior to Monday's launch and subsequent accident, Dinh-Zarr said. The engineer who was driving on Monday had been down the new route as part of his qualification to be able to drive, but the NTSB does not have any further details such as how many times the conductor had been through the new route, Dinh-Zarr said.

-The train was not equipped with positive train control, an advanced system designed to automatically stop a train to prevent "train-to-train" collisions, prevent an over-speed accident by slowing the train down or actually stopping the train. PTC had not been installed because a deadline requiring all trains to install it by the end of 2015 had been extended by Congress to the end of 2018, Dinh-Zarr said. A system of PTC had been installed but was not yet functional, she added.

-Although the train was equipped with centralized traffic control, a form of railroad signaling that allows for dispatching the train's direction, it cannot enforce train speeds, Dinh-Zarr said.

-The train was carrying over 80 passengers and crew. The crew, all of whom had been hospitalized, have not been interviewed yet, Dinh-Zarr said.

-One passenger on the train, who was not seriously injured, said he heard a "creaking" sound before the crash and was “catapulted” forward on impact. “The train started to wobble for a moment," Chris Karnes told ABC News, "And then we were catapulted at the seats in front of us. And the next thing that we knew, our car had crumpled at a portion at the top and we were down an embankment." Karnes said his train car “came to rest on a hill -- there was water and a ton of dust flew up into the air.”

-After the train derailed, several drivers were injured on the road below, but no one on the roadway was killed.

PHOTO: A damaged Amtrak train car is lowered from an overpass at the scene of Mondays deadly train crash onto Interstate 5, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash. Elaine Thompson/AP
A damaged Amtrak train car is lowered from an overpass at the scene of Monday's deadly train crash onto Interstate 5, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.

PHOTO: A derailed train is seen on southbound Interstate 5 on Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.Rachel La Corte/AP
A derailed train is seen on southbound Interstate 5 on Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Wash.

-The cause of the crash is not clear.

-The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone, according to the black box recovered from the accident. Investigators have yet to interview the crew and engineer in the accident, and were unsure why the train was going so fast. Today is NTSB investigators' first full day on the scene, and they are being led by Ted Turpin, a veteran investigator who led the review of the 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia which killed eight people. The investigation is expected to last seven to 10 days.

PHOTO: An aerial shot captures the wreckage of a train derailment in Washington state, Dec.18, 2017.KOMO
An aerial shot captures the wreckage of a train derailment in Washington state, Dec.18, 2017.

-Positive train control (PTC), which can automatically slow trains in order to avoid danger, was not in use on the tracks where the accident occurred. Though track owner Sound Transit said the feature was installed, it was apparently not activated. NTSB board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said it would investigate why beginning today. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference today, "There are a thousand unanswered questions," including if the speed control could have made a difference.

-Inslee -- who declared a state of emergency Monday -- said today, "We have confidence that we will get to the bottom of what caused this horrific tragedy," adding, "we will fix anything" necessary to prevent future tragedies.

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