Crozet Amtrak collision investigation continues

NTSB begins formal investigation in the wake of tragedy

NS-NTSB-press-conference

Pete Kotowski, chief investigator of the collision site, speaks during Thursday's press conference.

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

New developments continue to emerge following the Wednesday train crash in Crozet, in which an Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress collided with a garbage truck. There was one fatality.

Six people who sustained injuries from the crash were taken to the University Medical Center. The Albemarle County Police Department identified the casualty as Christopher Foley, 28, of Louisa County. Foley was a passenger in the garbage truck.

Those taken to the University hospital for treatment included Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) who, according to a spokesperson for the congressman, suffered a concussion but was released after treatment. An aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan was also taken to the hospital for treatment after sustaining a head injury.

In the moments after the collision, multiple Republican senators, staff members, representatives and their spouses exited the train in an attempt to help the injured. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Reps. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) were among those that exited the train to help others against the advisement of security officials. 

Marshall performed CPR on one of the men injured in the truck. 

"They were working on a man, deceased,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) said. “CPR performed for long time. It didn't work.”

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Flake both aided first responders in transporting one of the injured men to an ambulance. A majority of passengers on the train were shaken but uninjured by the incident.

Ryan later tweeted about the crash, calling the incident a “terrible tragedy.”

“We are grateful for the first responders who rushed to the scene and we pray for the victims and their families,” Ryan said in his tweet. “May they all be in our thoughts right now.”

The Congressional Institute said that the GOP retreat in West Virginia, the original destination of the train, will continue with two modifications to the program — there will be the addition of a moment of prayer for those involved in the collision and a security briefing from the U.S. Capitol Police and the Sergeant ofAarms. 

In the hours following the accident, Earl Weener, a board member of the National Transportation Security Board “Go-Team” assigned to the investigation, gave the first media briefing about the crash Wednesday evening. 

“On behalf of the NTSB, I’d like to extend our condolences to the families and friends of those affected by this tragic crash,” Weener said. 

Due to the investigation still being in its early stages, Weener said he was unable to provide answers about potential tampering or foul-play in regards to the crash. He did offer a plan of action for the coming days.

The NTSB held a second media briefing Thursday at the Albemarle County Police Department. 

Pete Kotowski, senior highway safety investigator for the NTSB, said at the press conference Thursday that an event data recorder from the train’s main locomotive had been successfully recovered and its data was being analyzed. 

“The data indicated that the train was travelling about 61 miles per hour when the throttle transitioned from full throttle to idle,” Kotowski said. “One second later, the locomotives numatic control switch went from closed to open, meaning the train was in maximum breaking configuration. The train came to rest approximately 20 seconds after the throttle went to idle.”

Kotowski identified the company of the garbage truck as Time Disposal Inc. based in Ruckersville, Va., and said the driver of the truck had been an employee with the company for about seven years. 

Kotowski said the investigation would continue long after the completion of the on-scene examination in order to allow for the analysis of recovered evidence and data from event recorders. 

Kotowski also said cameras attached to the front of the main locomotive have been recovered, but added that they sustained damage during the collision and was uncertain if all of the data would be recoverable. 

“After we complete our on-scene phase, we will continue to conduct detailed examination of the evidence recovered, laboratory analysis, research issues, development and finalization and renew process of our reports,” Kotowski said. 

Kotowski added that NTSB investigations typically last around 12 to 14 months. 

Weener encouraged any witnesses of the incident to contact the Albemarle County Police Department at 434-296-5807.

While there have been no official statements issued from the investigative teams as to the cause of the crash, Crozet locals report that the grade crossing at which the accident took place was known to malfunction. 

Benny Layne, a Crozet resident who lives near the site of the crash, told the Associated Press that the arms frequently malfunctioned and stayed down for hours at a time. 

“A guy was up here just yesterday or the day before taking a look at them,” Layne said.

Layne said that he recently saw a line of cars by the crossing, stopped by a crossing arm that remained down despite there being no train approaching. Eventually, according to Layne, the motorists crossed the tracks at their own discretion, moving around the malfunctioning arms. 

Buckingham Branch Railroad is responsible for the lease and maintenance of the section of track that the collision took place on. Carrie Brown, the human resources manager at BB, told the Associated Press that she was not aware of any equipment malfunctions at the crossing.  

NTSB will assign persons from its Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations and Office of Research and Engineering to assess the conditions of the rail operations as part of their investigation, as announced during their media briefing on Wednesday night.

As the investigations begin, communities and family must deal with the fallout of the event. 

Time Disposal, which Foley worked for, has set up a crowdfunding account to aid Foley’s family. The account is now under control of Foley’s family. 

“We have set up this page to help Mr. Foley's family, [but] there’s no amount of money that can replace a human life,” says the GoFundMe description for the campaign. “We are trying to raise enough for the family to cover funeral cost and help with some living costs. All the money will go directly to Mr. Foley's family.”

More than 450 people have contributed to the GoFundMe since it was created on Feb. 1, with more than $24,000 of the $50,000 goal being raised in seven hours. 

Two other employees of Time Disposal remain at the University Medical Center. According to hospital officials, one is in fair condition and the other is still in critical condition.

The crash on Wednesday is the second high-profile Amtrak accident that has taken place in the last two months. The previous case was on Dec. 18, 2017, in which an Amtrak train derailed near DuPont, Washington, killing 3 people and injuring more than 80.  

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, issued a press release on Jan 31 regarding the need for increased railway safety. The Amtrak accidents on both Dec. 18 and Jan. 31 were cited as reasons for this proposed reform.

“The public needs information and assurances on the safety of rail travel before the lengthy NTSB investigation on today’s accident, along with other ongoing NTSB investigations, such as last year’s Amtrak fatal derailment outside of Seattle, concludes,” Norton said in her press release.  “We provided Amtrak with significant funding in the FAST Act, which makes oversight mandatory. We need to know whether more is needed to address rail safety now.”

Geremia Di Maro and Colleen Schinderle contributed reporting.

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