OAKLAND, Calif. — A Davis County man who survived a deadly Amtrak train/semitrailer collision outside Reno, Nev., on Friday says he might have been a “goner” had he been sitting a few cars closer to the front of the passenger train.
Investigators struggled Monday to piece together how a truck driver who plowed into the train failed to notice the crossing gates and blinking lights at the crossing that should have been visible a half-mile away.
The driver of the truck, who was killed in the accident, has been identified by police as Lawrence R. Valli, 43, of Winnemucca, Nev., according to Nevada Highway Patrol officers in an Associated Press story.
At least six people were killed and five people unaccounted for after the crash that gutted two rail cars and left the semitrailer buried inside one of the cars, the story reported.
Woods Cross resident Lance Powell, along with his wife, Becky, and their
2 1/2-month-old son, were on the train traveling to Oakland to attend a wedding when, around 11:30 a.m. Friday, a semitrailer pulling two empty gravel trailers hit the side of the train, creating a fiery explosion.
“It felt like someone shoved you from behind,” Powell, 29, said of the initial impact he felt as he held his child while seated in the train observation car. “If I was standing up, it would have knocked me off my feet.”
The impact he felt was from the truck hitting the train, which caused the gas tanks on the truck to explode. The train, having to pass through the explosion, caught on fire in places, like a scene out of an action movie, Powell said.
“You could feel the heat — it was intense, even through the windows,” Powell said in a phone interview Monday with the Standard-Examiner. “When passing through the explosion, I thought I was going to die.”
Looking out the window, he said, all he could see was fire and smoke.
The fire burned so intensely that investigators were delayed in searching the wreckage and were hampered in their ability to find victims in the burned-out rubble, officials said.
Following the crash was when there seemed to be moments of confusion among passengers, Powell said, adding that as he began racing his way back through the train cars to find his wife, she had begun to work her way through the cars to find him and the baby.
In the meantime, a voice over the public address system gave out conflicting directions on where passengers were to go, Powell said.
“They (passengers) didn’t know what to do,” Powell said.
Eventually, passengers evacuated the train, out into the desert about a half-mile away from where the truck had initially hit the train.
Powell said passengers then walked back toward the crossing where emergency vehicles had started to gather and where they would wait for a few hours before school buses arrived to take them into the nearest town.
It was while waiting in a school gymnasium that the Powells caught a break when a local couple agreed to go about an hour out of their way to take them to Reno, where they then rented a car. Eventually, they made it to Lance’s sister’s wedding in time.
Powell said this was the first time he has taken Amtrak, but not the first time he has been on a train.
“It really wasn’t the fault of the train,” said Powell, who in walking through the desert noticed the long skid mark left by the semitrailer prior to its hitting the train.
Just the same, Powell said, it may be awhile before he takes another train.
The Powells, on Monday afternoon, were in the process of taking a flight home.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.