Driver Inattention & Poorly Maintained Brakes Caused Commercial Truck-Amtrak Crash

by Andrew R. Young | December 17th, 2012

On December 11, 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) issued a press release stating that “Driver Inattention and Poorly Maintained Brakes” were the cause of the John Davis Trucking Company’s semi-truck crash with the Amtrak passenger train.  This crash ignited a fire that encompassed the truck and three passenger railcars injuring sixteen people, killing the truck driver, and causing the wrongful death of five others.

NTSB investigators found no evidence that the truck driver activated his brakes when the railroad grade crossing signal first activated.  An accident reconstruction demonstrated that the first evidence of braking was less than 300 feet from the crossing, slowing the truck to between 26-30 mph upon impact.  Click here to see an animation of the accident reconstruction.

NTSB Chair, Deborah A.P. Hersman, is quoted as stating “[a]lthough we’ll never know the exact cause of the truck driver’s inattention, we do know that if John Davis Trucking had provided its driver with a safe and properly maintained vehicle, this accident could have been avoided.”

The investigation evidenced that nine of the sixteen brakes on the tractor and trailers were inoperative along with numerous other maintenance violations.  These findings clearly prove John Davis Trucking Company’s patterns of abuse with regard to vehicle maintenance standards.

In addition to this trucking company’s lax maintenance practices, the driver qualifications review was also negligent and likely reckless.  The decedent-truck driver, Lawrence Valli, had a history of prior accidents, a suspended and/or revoked license, and over twelve other traffic violations.  The John Davis Trucking Company clearly failed to utilize the pre-employment screening  program and/or make an informed decision when they negligently hired and entrusted Mr. Valli to drive their truck.

See the following two blogs I wrote shortly after the June 24, 2011 crash: A Preventable Accident: The Amtrak California – Nevada Truck Collision and Deadly Nevada Truck / Train Crash Should Bring Awareness To Unsafe Driving Practices.  In the first blog, I made the prediction that the truck had faulty equipment.  I further forecasted the likelihood that the offending truck company had negligent hiring practices.  In the second blog, I referenced driver inattention as a probable contributing factor in the crash.

Unfortunately, the NTSB does not do an investigation into every trucking accident.  If someone you love is a victim of a trucking accident — whether as a truck driver or the occupant of a car — please know that when we pursue a case on your behalf we work hard to expose the patterns of unsafe behavior of rogue trucking companies.  Pursuing recovery for a truck accident is not just about seeking a remedy for an isolated incident; it also presents an opportunity toward making our highway’s safer for the motoring public.

Authored by: Andrew R. Young, Chair of the Trucking Litigation Section, Ohio Association for Justice / Truck Accident Attorney / Licensed Class A, Commercial Drivers License