More details on the January 31 fatal collision of an Amtrak train carrying Republican congressmen and a Time Disposal garbage truck at a railroad crossing in Crozet were released Thursday, and the National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator says the agency is aware of reports of issues at the crossing at Lanetown Road.
Christopher Foley, 28, of Louisa died at the scene when the truck upon which he was a crew member and a passenger was hit.
The Washington Post reports that Representative Phil Roe of Tennessee, a retired OB/GYN who was on the train, said, “I think it was a instantaneous death. I don’t think he suffered.”
On its Facebook page, Time Disposal says, “[W]e find ourselves in shock and with heavy hearts. Yesterday we lost an employee and a brother, his one-year-old son and mother of his child lost a father.” The company set up a GoFundMe account for his family, which has so far raised nearly $34,000.
The chartered train that was carrying GOP legislators to a retreat at the deluxe Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, was going 61mph, said Pete Kotowski, NTSB investigator in charge of the investigation at a press conference. The speed limit for that crossing is 60mph.
A data recorder indicated the train was going full throttle at 11:20am, and one second later it went to idle, which means it was braking, said Kotowski. “The train came to rest approximately 20 seconds after the throttle went to idle,” he said.
A video recorder on the front of the train was damaged, but has been sent sent to Washington for examination. The recorder, said Kotowski, could reveal more about whether the crossing arms were down when the train went through, as will electronic components taken from the signal.
He says it will be 12 to 14 months before the investigation is complete.
Reports of issues with the crossing equipment have been widespread since the crash.
Benny Layne, who owns the land at Marymart Farm where the shredded truck came to rest, told the AP he’d seen the crossing arms stay down for hours when no train was coming, and that he’d seen someone working on the signal earlier this week.
Timothy Griffith, who lives in nearby Grayrock, says during the four years he’s lived there, “I remember one occasion when the arms were down for no reason.”
Six people were taken to the hospital, and one, a Time Disposal employee, is in critical condition.
Local musician Jamie Dyer says that’s his nephew. “I can’t believe he’s alive,” says Dyer.
Dennis James “DJ” Eddy is in his mid-20s, had only been working for Time Disposal for a couple of weeks and was sitting in the middle of the cab when “the train hit the back of the truck and flipped it around,” says Dyer.
Dyer says the FBI came to the hospital room of the driver of the truck to draw blood, and he’s worried “they’re trying to pin it on this driver.”
The driver is 30 years old and has worked for Time Disposal for seven years, says Kotowski.
The waste company has been in business 33 years, employs 17 drivers and has 15 vehicles. The NTSB investigator says it’s had six roadside safety checks and two vehicle were placed out of service. Time Disposal trucks have had two crashes, one in 2015 and another in 2016.
The garbage truck, locomotive and train cars have all been removed and will be examined, says Kotowski.
So far the NTSB has interviewed four witnesses, and the agency is urging anyone who saw anything to contact them.
Among the lawmakers on the train were Senator Jeff Flake, who said the incident was reminiscent of last summer’s baseball field shooting, Senator Ted Cruz and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who offered prayers for the victims and injured and who said, “I’m just so thankful for the people who sprung into action today.”