Truck Driver Investigated In Amtrak Tragedy
March 18, 1999
The death toll in the Amtrak train derailment near Chicago has been dropped to 11, but investigators are taking a hard look at the truck driver whose flatbed trailer was across the tracks when the train slammed into it at 79 mph Monday night.
Investigators are trying to find out if the trucker, 58-year-old John Stokes, drove his rig around the crossing gates to try to beat the train. Stokes, who has hired a lawyer, originally told investigators that the warning light and gates activated only after he started across the tracks.
A motorist who says he was directly behind the truck came forward Wednesday night, but investigators are not telling the press what the witness says he saw.
The injured Amtrak engineer, in a preliminary interview, said he saw the truck try to drive around the gates, but John Goglia of the NTSB said the engineer was too shaken to provide a reliable account of what happened. In a re-enactment of the crash using a truck and locomotive, the truck was able to zigzag around the downed crossing gates without hitting them. Investigators have been analyzing tire marks on the road, on timbers at the crossing, and in the mud along the shoulder of the road to see if they show the truck driving around the gates.
Stokes was driving on a probationary license after receiving three Indiana speeding tickets in a year. The Federal Highway Administration has already launched a safety audit of the company he worked for, Melco Transfer.