Split-second separates Loomis teen from fatal Amtrak passenger-car crash

Del Oro grad was one car away from impact that killed six
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It was a close call for a Loomis resident aboard the Amtrak train involved in a crash Friday 70 miles east of Reno that left at least six people dead. Christian Freed was in the passenger car just behind one that took the full force of the skidding semitrailer as it slammed into the side of the Chicago-to-Emeryville California Zephyr. The train was traveling west to Emeryville just before noon, with 204 passengers and 14 crew members when the collision occurred. Freed said he was reading and on the far side of the passenger car when impact occurred. Then came a ball of flame. “The impact was jolting but what really freaked me out was the fire outside the windows,” the 18-year-old Del Oro High School grad said. Freed was yards away from being in the collision path. His mother, Stephanie, teared up when talking about a calculation by her husband, William, estimating the crash took place 0.4 seconds ahead of their son. With a wall of orange flame outside, Freed and other passengers retreated through the train’s inner hallway to the last sleeping car and then exited. “Passengers were all very nonchalant about it,” Freed said. “It was scary how slow they were.” Passengers were unaware at first of the extent of the damage and loss of life. “No one was panicking,” Freed said. “We didn’t know anyone had been killed.” Associated Press reported Monday that authorities had identified the driver of the truck and two of the five passengers killed. The Nevada Highway Patrol said that 43-year-old Lawrence Valli of Winnemucca was killed when his truck slammed into the side of the car at a highway crossing. The Highway Patrol also released the names of two passengers who were killed – 58-year-old Francis Knox and her 18-year-old daughter, Karly Knox, of Seward, Neb. The NHP said authorities are still trying to identify other victims and their names will be released as soon as possible. Freed was in Colorado for a dance exchange and caught the California Zephyr at Grand Junction, Colo. for a return trip home. It was his second train trip. The first was to travel to the Colorado dance exchange. Freed said he called his parents as soon as he could and then arrived in Roseville by bus at 10 p.m. Friday – about six hours later than expected. The crash hasn’t intimidated him from taking future train trips but the comparative cost to flying and his inability to sleep onboard will probably keep him off the rails for awhile, he said. “I knew this was a freak accident,” Freed said. “When you take the train, you’re not expecting any danger.” Loomis News editor Joyia Emard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.