FALLON, Nev. – The truck driver who died when his tractor-trailer slammed into Amtrak’s westbound California Zephyr here June 24, had accumulated nine traffic tickets since 2007 – five for speeding in a commercial vehicle, twice for speeding in his personal automobile, once for a seat belt violation and once for illegally using a cellphone while driving.
Also killed in the highway-rail grade crossing accident was an Amtrak conductor and UTU member – Laurette Lee – and four passengers. Scores were injured, including Amtrak assistant conductor and UTU member Richard d’Alessandro.
Three of truck driver Lawrence Reuben Valli’s five speeding violations were issued while he was a school-bus driver for an unnamed California school system, reports The Los Angeles Times, citing information from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.
In 2007, according to the San Francisco Examiner, Valli, while operating his own automobile, slammed into the rear of another auto near Reno on I-80 and was ticketed for speeding.
There has been no statement from the National Transportation Safety Board whether Valli was traveling in excess of the highway’s posted speed limit when his truck crashed into the Amtrak train. Skid marks on the highway were found and may help investigators determine the truck’s speed prior to impact.
NTSB member Earl Weener, serving as the agency’s spokesperson at the accident scene, said an outward facing camera in the Amtrak locomotive recorded that the signals and gates were working.
The NTSB said June 27 that a cellphone found in the wreckage, and thought to belong to Valli, will be examined to determine if it was in use while he was driving.
The San Francisco Examiner quoted a spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles that Valli had other offenses on his driving record that could not be disclosed – “Oh, yeah, lots more. He was a busy guy,” the spokesman said. Yet, according to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, there is no record of Valli having had his commercial driver’s license suspended or revoked.
As for the trucking company that employed Valli, the Associated Press reported that it had been issued seven safety violations over the past year, and one vehicle had been ordered out of service.
A trucking publication, Fleet Owner, reported, “Make no mistake, along with the lives lost and the injuries caused by the wreck, the crash is a sharp stick in the eye of all those in trucking and government alike who have been very publicly working across numerous fronts this year to increase commercial-vehicle safety performance.”