SPARKS, Nev. - Investigators struggled Monday to piece together how a truck driver who plowed into an Amtrak California Zephyr train in the Nevada desert failed to notice the crossing gates and blinking lights that should have been visible a half-mile away.
At least six people on the train out of Chicago were killed and five people are unaccounted for after the fiery crash that gutted two rail cars and left the semi-truck buried inside one. On Monday, the Nevada Highway Patrol identified the trucker as Lawrence R. Valli, 43, of Winnemuca, Nev. It also released the names of two passengers who were killed - 58-year-old Francis Knox and her 18-year-old daughter, Karly Knox, of Seward, Neb. - as investigators continued to try to identify other victims from the crash. Trooper Chuck Allen said authorities would consider all factors as they investigated the cause of the accident, including fatigue, driver inattention and drugs or alcohol, with toxicology and autopsy results due within days. "Was he talking to his buddies behind him? If so, was he looking in the side-view mirror and not looking at the road ahead?" Allen said. "I don't think we'll ever know for sure." The fire burned so intensely that investigators were delayed in searching the wreckage and hampered in their ability to locate victims in the burned out rubble. Autopsies are expected on all victims. National transportation officials have sent the same forensics team that helped recover victims of a deadly plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y., two years ago. It could take up to a year to pinpoint the cause of the crash that killed the truck driver, a conductor and four others on the train. The semi-trailer truck hit the California Zephyr at a highway crossing about 70 miles east of Reno. Forensic anthropologists Dennis Dirkmaat and Steven Symes were to lead a team from Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania to the scene, and be there until at least Thursday. The same team helped authorities after a plane plunged into a home in suburban Clarence, N.Y., in 2009. AP
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