Amtrak might seek damages from driver
Ever Vega, the driver of a pickup truck smashed Tuesday by Amtrak’s California Zephyr just west of Glenwood Springs, was lucky to get out alive, but his troubles stemming from the accident might not end with minor injuries and traffic tickets.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Post Independent on Wednesday that the railway might take legal action to recover some of its costs from the wreck, including for significant damage to the lead locomotive and costs to compensate the 190 delayed passengers on board. The train was delayed about 5 hours, with passenger cars taken back to Glenwood after about 90 minutes sitting still.
Witnesses said Vega, 40, crawled and walked away from his Dodge Ram 3500 after it was dragged about 500 feet by the train, which was traveling at 49 mph when it hit the pickup at South Canyon Road, just off Interstate 70 and adjacent to the Colorado River 3 miles west of Glenwood. He has been ticketed for failure to obey a railroad crossing and failure to provide proof of insurance.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Kirk Bartunek, the lead investigator on the wreck, told the PI on Wednesday that the driver should have had plenty of time to see crossing lights and the train coming.
Vega told investigators he was driving only about 20 to 25 mph. Bartunek said Vega told troopers he was driving north through the crossing when he suddenly saw the train and couldn’t stop in time.
The trooper said he drove the road at that speed later and was sure there was plenty of time to see the warning lights and get stopped.
“In my opinion he must have been distracted by something in the vehicle,” Bartunek said.
The trooper is also not ruling out excessive speed as a factor. Investigators found no skid marks at the scene, so Bartunek couldn’t verify how fast the truck was going.
Because he was pulling a 16-foot trailer behind the truck, he was believed to be returning from the landfill in South Canyon.
The crossing has warning lights and an audible alert, but no crossing arms that lower when a train is coming.
The Federal Highway Administration determines what level of warnings go at a given railroad crossing.
The Federal Railroad Administration estimates that about 99 vehicles a day cross the tracks at this railroad crossing, at which no previous incidents have been reported, Tiffany Lindemann, FRA public affairs specialist, told the PI in an email.
The State Patrol is being left on its own to investigate the wreck.
CSP is following its usual procedure for investigating a train-versus-truck wreck, and Amtrak will evaluate the performance of its crew and equipment, as is the company’s routine.
Union Pacific, which owns the rail line on which the crash occurred; the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the country’s railroads; and Amtrak are all letting the State Patrol handle the investigation.
Union Pacific on Wednesday began cleaning up the diesel fuel and engine oil and hopes to have the job done today, said UP spokeswoman Calli Hite.
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A Rifle man was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday morning in two cases, one for vehicular homicide and another for burglary, both while under the influence of alcohol.