County transit employee among 3 killed in Amtrak train derailment in Washington state

(ABC News/WTNH) — A county transit employee and a former Washington Transportation Department civil engineer were two of the three people killed when an Amtrak train derailed in Washington state Monday.

The Monday morning crash killed three people and injured many more when it derailed going over a bridge near Dupont, Washington, landing on the highway below.

One victim was Zack Willhoite, an IT customer service support specialist with Pierce Transit, his employer said. Willhoite had worked there since 2008, Pierce Transit said.

“He has always been deeply appreciated and admired by his colleagues, and played an important role at our agency,” Pierce Transit said. “He will be sincerely missed. Our thoughts are with Zack’s family, as well as the families of the other victims, during this very difficult time.”

Chris Karnes, chair of Pierce Transit’s advisory board, tweeted that Willhoite was a “rail aficionado” who “helped our advisory committee with IT issues, and behind the scenes he was a writer and advocate for better transit for all.”

Another victim was Jim Hamre, his niece Rachel Topper said, according to The Associated Press. Hamre worked as a Washington Transportation Department civil engineer until he retired a few years ago, said Lloyd Flem, executive director All Aboard Washington, according to the AP.

Topper wrote on Facebook, “My uncle Jim will be missed by so many. We are all very heart broken.”

Related Content: Train speeding 50 mph over limit before deadly derailment

The identity of the third victim was not immediately clear.

Here’s what we know about the deadly train crash:

-The train was making its inaugural ride on the route from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. The track had recently been upgraded from a freight line to allow for passenger trains.

-The train was carrying over 80 passengers and crew.

-One passenger on the train, who was not seriously injured, said he heard a “creaking” sound before the crash and was “catapulted” forward on impact. “The train started to wobble for a moment,” Chris Karnes told ABC News, “And then we were catapulted at the seats in front of us. And the next thing that we knew, our car had crumpled at a portion at the top and we were down an embankment.” Karnes said his train car “came to rest on a hill — there was water and a ton of dust flew up into the air.”

-After the train derailed, several drivers were injured on the road below, but no one on the roadway was killed.

-The cause of the crash is not clear.

Related Content: At least 3 dead from Amtrak train derailment in Washington state

-The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone, according to the black box recovered from the accident. Investigators have yet to interview the crew and engineer in the accident, and were unsure why the train was going so fast. Today is NTSB investigators’ first full day on the scene, and they are being led by Ted Turpin, a veteran investigator who led the review of the 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia which killed eight people. The investigation is expected to last seven to 10 days.

-Positive train control (PTC), which can automatically slow trains in order to avoid danger, was not in use on the tracks where the accident occurred. Though track owner Sound Transit said the feature was installed, it was apparently not activated. NTSB board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said it would investigate why beginning today. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference today, “There are a thousand unanswered questions,” including if the speed control could have made a difference.

-Inslee — who declared a state of emergency Monday — said today, “We have confidence that we will get to the bottom of what caused this horrific tragedy,” adding, “we will fix anything” necessary to prevent future tragedies.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal commented on the uses of PTC, saying “I believe life-saving technology, positive train control is what the railroads owe their passengers and those lives are too important to compromise.”

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