RENO, Nev. (CBS / AP) — A judge handling the first lawsuit in a deadly Amtrak crash in Nevada issued a protective order Wednesday prohibiting the destruction or disposal of any evidence tied to last week’s fiery collision between a truck and a Bay Area-bound passenger train that left six dead at a rail crossing in the high desert.
Washoe County District Judge Connie Steinheimer approved the order requested by a Chicago-based Amtrak attendant who was among 20 people injured when the semi-trailer truck slammed into a train passenger car on U.S. Highway 95 about 70 miles east of Reno.
In her lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Alexandra Curtis of Evanston, Ill., alleges negligence on the part of truck driver Lawrence Valli, 43, and his employer, John Davis Trucking Co., saying that he ignored railroad crossing gates and warning signals.
Daniel Kotin, a Chicago-based lawyer taking the lead in the case, said Wednesday the emergency order was sought to make sure victims of the accident have a voice in the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the fatal crash as well as any potential related civil actions.
“Based on just a very initial look at it, it sure looks like that trucking company is awfully responsible here, whether other parties become part of this or not,” he told The Associated Press.
“We can speculate all day as to why he was traveling as fast as he was and somehow crashed into the train,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “But the initial evidence is telling us that the crossing gates were down and the lights activated and the truck still plows into the fourth car of the train.”
Valli, who had been driving for John Davis for only about six months, had gotten three speeding tickets in California over the last four years, and was arrested in Nevada in 2007 for skipping a court date after letting his vehicle registration expire, records revealed.
The lawsuit said Valli “carelessly failed to heed railroad warning signs” before crashing into the westbound California Zephyr headed from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay area and caused it to “explode in a ball of fire.”
Officials for John Davis Trucking said in a statement on Tuesday they were cooperating with the NTSB investigation and shared the desire to determine the cause of the crash. They did respond to telephone calls or emails from AP seeking comment on the lawsuit or judge’s order.
Bill Bradley, one of the Reno-based lawyers representing Curtis, said Wednesday’s ruling will ensure all evidence is preserved for both the federal safety investigation and civil procedures.
“Unfortunately, from past experience, sometimes crucial evidence is accidentally or in some cases intentionally destroyed,” he told AP. “We want to make darn sure everybody knows there is not just an NTSB investigation but also a state court action and the court has said not that you should, but, you must preserve the evidence.”
Curtis is seeking in excess of $10,000 in general damages and an unspecified amount for medical costs from the accident after suffering severe and permanent injuries, the complaint states. She also has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the law firm.
Kotin said that NTSB and the trucking firm have been involved in the investigation since Friday “but none of the victims has a voice or a hand in anything that is going on.”
“By getting this protective order, we hope it effectively gets us a seat at the table in whatever the investigative process is,” he said.