Amtrak train was moving below speed limit before deadly Missouri crash, NTSB says

Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
A satellite image shows an Amtrak train that derailed after hitting a dump truck at an uncontrolled crossing, southwest Mendon, Missouri, U.S., June 28, 2022.

Federal investigators said Wednesday that an Amtrak train was traveling below the speed limit this week when it crashed into a dump truck, killing four people and injuring more than 100 others.

Authorities on Wednesday also identified the victims in Monday’s derailment in rural Missouri. They included two sisters on vacation and an 82-year-old Kansas City man.

At a Wednesday briefing, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Jennifer Homendy said the train was moving at 87 mph in the 90 mph zone when it collided with the truck. It had been traveling at 89 mph a quarter-mile before the collision when its horn was blown.

She said investigators have found no mechanical problems with the train.

“We do not have concerns about mechanical issues,” she said. “We tested the brakes and there are no issues with the brakes.”

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said train passengers Kim Holsapple, 56, and Rochelle Cook, 58, of Desoto, Kan.; and Binh Pham, 82, of Kansas City, Mo., were killed in the collision. Cook and Holsapple were pronounced dead at the scene. Pham died hours later at University Hospital in Columbia, Mo.

The driver of the dump truck was identified as Billy Barton II, 54, of Brookfield, Mo., which is a few miles from the location of the crash. Barton was pronounced dead at the scene. He was driving for MS Contracting LLC, which was working on a project with the Army Corps of Engineers, investigators said.

Holsapple, Cook, their mother and Cook’s daughter were on their way to Chicago for a girl’s getaway, according to a GoFundMe page set up to cover funeral expenses. They sat in the same row; the two sisters were separated by the aisle, according to a photo on the page.

“Our first family girl trip . . . that didn’t happen,” Cook’s daughter wrote on Facebook. “Two lives ended way too soon. Support and prayers are much appreciated.”

The two surviving family members were both hospitalized with injuries, the page said.

During a briefing near the scene, Homendy said the investigation is zeroing on the uncontrolled crossing where the collision occurred. The crossing has warning signs but no lights or bars. Homendy said the slope of the crossing could have posed problems for the dump truck driver.

“We have to look at the approach of this crossing. It’s very steep,” she said. “There’s a lot resting on a driver to see a train at these crossings, particularly when there’s such a steep incline.”

She said investigators plan to send a laser-scanning vehicle through the intersection to reconstruct the crash.

Front-facing camera footage from the Amtrak has been preliminarily reviewed, but investigators plan to go through it again frame by frame to see if the wheels were hung up on anything on or near the track, Homendy said.

The Los Angeles-to-Chicago train derailed while carrying 275 passengers and 12 crew members, according to Amtrak. The location is about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City.

At least two passengers have hired lawyers to represent them in possible legal action against Amtrak. Chicago-based Clifford Law Offices said it is also handling 42 cases from a 2021 Amtrak derailment in Montana. It represented several victims in a Washington state derailment in 2017.

Attorneys say passengers Jason and Amanda Drinkard were escorting six students from Pleasant Ridge High School in Easton, Kan., to Chicago to compete in the Future Business Leaders of America’s three-day National Leadership Conference. Both are teachers, said Henry Simmons, managing partner of the firm.

Jason Drinkard is the teens’ social studies teacher. The students had won a regional competition in Kansas to advance to the national event, Simmons said.

The Drinkards were in the fifth rail car, which overturned in the derailment, Simmons said.

“They were on the side of the car that fell on the ground and was being dragged – as you could imagine, going that speed,” Simmons said. “Everybody on the other side of the train fell on top of them.”

The pair suffered bruises and torn muscles, as well as post-traumatic stress, Simmons said, adding that they helped other passengers exit the train.

The Drinkards were treated at a hospital and have since been released, Simmons said.

The firm said it was also seeking information about the company that operated the dump truck. Calls to MS Contracting LLC were not answered Wednesday.

Debra Holsapple Jurkovac, a former sister-in-law of Holsapple, said Holsapple was a good mother who loved to laugh. She worked from home as a medical transcriptionist and enjoyed traveling.

Holsapple and her ex-husband had lived in Texas and on the East Coast before coming back home to the Kansas City area. Jurkovac said she remembers her daughter and one of Holsapple’s sons sharing inside jokes with Holsapple, laughing and singing random songs together.