Amtrak sues trucking company over Nevada crash

LOS ANGELES Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:51pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Amtrak has sued the trucking company that owned a tractor-trailer rig which slammed into one of its trains in Nevada last week in a fiery crash that killed six people and injured dozens of others.

The passenger rail service, partly owned by the U.S. government, sued the John Davis Trucking Company in U.S. District Court in Nevada on Wednesday, seeking unspecified damages.

Amtrak claims in court papers that the trucking firm was negligent in hiring driver Lawrence Valli, who it says was "incompetent and unqualified" to operate or maintain the gravel-hauling rig.

A spokeswoman for the John Davis Trucking Company, based in Battle Mountain, Nevada, referred calls to a Las Vegas-based lawyer, who did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

An Amtrak spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the court papers spoke for themselves.

Valli's truck crashed through closed railroad gates on Friday and rammed into the California Zephyr, which was en route to Emeryville, California from Chicago with nearly 200 passengers and 14 crew members on board.

The 43-year-old truck driver was killed in the collision on U.S. Route 95, about 70 miles east of Reno, along with the train's conductor and at least four other people. Dozens more were injured.

A team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators was working to determine the cause of the accident but has said it may take as long as a year to reach a formal conclusion.

Skid marks show Valli slammed on his breaks just 320 feet before the rail crossing -- ignoring or failing to notice signs, flashing lights, bells, signal arms and the train itself, which was traveling westbound at nearly 80 miles an hour and sounding its horn.

"The Peterbuilt tractor-trailer combination operated by Valli failed to heed the warnings, crossing protection controls and the locomotive horn and entered the crossing, broad-siding a car of the Amtrak train on the left side," the lawsuit says.

Amtrak seeks unspecified damages including loss of its train cars, loss of business, and other expenses involved with the accident clean-up and investigation.

The Amtrak lawsuit was the second filed so far following the crash.

On Tuesday, an Amtrak train attendant who according to court papers suffered "severe and permanent injuries" in the collision sued the trucking company for negligence in Washoe County District Court, seeking damages in excess of $10,000.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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