First Amtrak Crash Victim to Be Identified Was an Advocate for Public Transit

The first victim of the Amtrak train derailment to be identified is a public transit worker with a passion for trains and transportation.

(Photo: Facebook / Zack Willhoite)

Pierce Transit confirmed the death of Zack Willhoite on the company's website, noting that he had worked for the company since 2008.

"He has always been deeply appreciated and admired by his colleagues, and played an important role at our agency," the statement read. "He will be sincerely missed. Our thoughts are with Zack's family, as well as the families of the other victims, during this very difficult time."

The "rail aficionado" was a member of the IT customer service support and was "behind the scenes a writer and advocate for better transit for all," according to Chris Karnes, chairman of Pierce Transit's advisory board.

Willhoite was among three people who died in the Monday morning crash of the passenger Amtrak train. The train was on its inaugural ride from Seattle to Portland and was reportedly going 50 miles per hour faster than the tracks allowed. Several cars fell off the rails and dangled over a busy highway.

Officials are considering the train's speed to be the primary cause of the accident, along with slick, cold conditions. It was the 501 Train's first run on a new, faster route.

New footage, which you can see here, shows emergency responders, state officials, and clean-up crews all over the site of the accident, trying to repair the damage while determining how to prevent it in the future. Cranes have been brought in to remove the damaged train cars and clear the roadways below.


One official described the problem of getting emergency workers to the site quickly. Because the highway that was hit by the train was the only point of access, first responders had a tough time getting through the traffic to help the victims. In addition, the area was surrounded by steep hills, forcing the injured and volunteers to trudge up and down slippery grass inclines as injuries were treated and the damage was cleared.