RENO, Nev. (AP) — An Amtrak attendant trying to lead passengers from a burning train hit by a truck in the Nevada desert says in a new lawsuit that survivors had to double back past dead bodies in a smoky car and jump out a window because their initial escape route was blocked by a locked baggage car door.
Just moments before the June 24 crash that left six dead, Lana Dickerson had been working alongside a co-worker who was killed when she was thrust into the “carnage” with a number of passengers whom she “personally attended to both before and after the disaster,” one of her lawyers said Monday.
In an attempt to lead others to safety, Dickerson “tried to escape the wreckage through a door in the rail car in which she was working, only to discover it was locked, forcing her to lead the group of survivors back through the wreckage, encountering bodies of dead victims and major smoke exposure,” according to her lawsuit against Amtrak and others.
Ultimately, Dickerson, 26, Worth, Ill., and others were forced to jump down about 15 feet from the smoldering wreckage to the rocky rail bed below, the lawsuit said.
Another Amtrak attendant hurt in the accident, Alexandra Curtis, of Evanston, Ill., filed a lawsuit in Washoe District Court last week against the truck driver killed in the wreck, Lawrence Valli, 43, Winnemucca, and his employer, John Davis Trucking Co. of Battle Mountain.
That suit says Valli ignored railroad crossing gates and warning signals before he finally hit the brakes and his big rig skidded the length of a football field into the side of the double-decker passenger train.
Dickerson’s suit filed late Friday in Washoe District Court in Reno also names the trucking firm as a co-defendant, but it is the first to allege blame on the part of Amtrak, formally the National Railroad Passenger Corp. Amtrak also has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Reno against Valli and John Davis Trucking.
Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm told The Associated Press on Monday that this was the first he has heard of the lawsuit. “Any comment would come through court filings,” he said.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported the lawsuit earlier Monday.
Amtrak is conducting its own internal review of the incident while the National Transportation Safety Board continues its formal investigation, Kulm said.
“It’s way too early to start guessing and speculating about the possible results of things,” he said. “It has been established now that the truck driver drove into the side of our train. NTSB said the train was operating as it should be and that there were no mechanical issues.”
Besides the truck driver, assistant Amtrak conductor Laurette Lee, 68, South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and four others on the train were killed in the crash at a crossing on U.S. Highway 95 about three miles south of U.S. Interstate 80 in the Forty Mile Desert.
Dickerson, who has worked for Amtrak since 2009, “had spoken to the deceased conductor just moments before this happened,” her lawyer Eric Holland told the AP on Monday.
She was “working her way back through the train form the crew dorm area backward toward the tail end of the train,” he said in a telephone interview from St. Louis, Mo. After the collision, she tried “to go back up through the front end dorm car and through the baggage car but it was locked.”
Holland said he’s in the process of trying to ascertain whether Amtrak has a policy requiring doors to baggage cars to remain locked or unlocked.
“The fact of the matter is, we don’t know exactly what Amtrak’s policy is,” he told AP. “We’ve interviewed several conductors who work trains who say that for safety purposes, the doors should not be locked.”
Dickerson was flown by helicopter to a hospital where she was treated for injuries to her head, face, right eye, knees, hands and spine, the lawsuit said.
Holland declined to provide specifics on her ongoing treatment but said she continued to seek treatment for problems stemming from “the awful carnage she saw and the terrible way it played out.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)