RENO, Nev. -- A driver who died after his semitrailer slammed into a passenger train had at least six moving violations since 2008, including four speeding tickets, according to records from three states.
The family of Lawrence Ruben Valli, 43, of Winnemucca, Nev., who was killed instantly after his 50,000-pound semi skidded about 320 feet through safety rails and into an Amtrak train Friday, are defending him, saying he would have done all he could to stop the truck if he could.
"I just know he had to have known that the truck wasn't going to stop in a football field and he could have jumped out," said Delone Yu of Chino, Calif., Vali's nephew. "I even asked my mom, 'Well, why didn't he just jump out?' And she told me he's not the type of person to run from a problem."
Earl Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators found a cell phone near the site of Friday's crash that they believe belonged to Valli. It has been sent to a lab to be examined.
They want to find out whether Valli was talking on the phone or sending a text message as his truck approached the crossing on U.S. 95, about 70 miles east of Reno.
Five were killed on the train that caught fire, including Amtrak conductor Laurette Lee, 68, and passengers Francis Knox, 58, and her 18-year-old daughter, Karly, of Seward, Neb. Names of the other victims will be released once they've been identified and their families notified, said Trooper Chuck Allen of the Nevada Highway Patrol.
One passenger remains unaccounted for, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. It was not clear whether that passenger left the train at an earlier stop.
Federal investigators also acquired a video from Amtrak that was taken from the front of the train as soon as the emergency brakes were applied, Weener said. The 2-minute color video shows that the weather was clear, visibility was good, and no obstructions blocked the sight of the train.
It also shows that the train crossing gates were down and the horn and bells were working, he said.
Investigators met with representatives of the trucking company and will continue interviews this week, Weener said. The company had another fatal accident in May, but he did not have details of what happened in that single-vehicle accident.
The trucking company was cited for seven violations since 2010, and one required the company to take the truck out of service until the problems were fixed, according to records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The NTSB is expected to release a preliminary report in about 30 days, and won't have a probable cause for about a year, he said.
Nevada Department of Motor Vehicle records show that Valli secured his commercial driver's license in this state in October 2009 and had multiple traffic violations.
He had surrendered his noncommerical driver's license some time between 2002 and 2005, but it was not known why, said Tom Jacobs, DMV spokesman.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles said Valli had five convictions for offenses starting in 2008: He was ticketed for speeding in a commercial vehicle in July 2008, cited for not wearing a seat belt in August 2008, stopped for speeding in September 2008 and three days later was ticketed for driving with a cell phone in his hand. He received a speeding ticket in May 2009 in Fresno County, Calif.
The sixth ticket, for speeding came in September 2009 in Alabama.
At the time of the last two tickets, Valli was working for Western Express, a Nashville-Tenn., trucking company that hires drivers to carry goods across 48 states, a spokeswoman said.
Valli started working there Jan. 7, 2009, and left Feb. 10, the spokeswoman said. She declined to say why.
Valli's nephew, Delone Yu, said Valli has been a truck driver all his life, and had an 11-year-old daugther who "was his everything."
"He was a very hard-working person who was determined to make a great life for his daughter," Yu said. "We are all still in shock because none of the details have really been disclosed to the family yet and we don't understand how it could have happened."
Valli's sister, Jacquita Yu, and their mother, Betty Valli, went to the crash site Monday and noted how the skid marks "kind of went to the left at the end," Delone Yu said.
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