First victim of Amtrak derailment identified

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Updated Dec 19, 2017 3:03 PM EST

One of the victims of a deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state was identified Tuesday, a day after at least three people were killed and dozens were injured when the train jumped the tracks south of Seattle.  

Pierce Transit confirmed Monday that one of its employees, Zack Willhoite, was a victim of the crash, and said in a statement its team was “deeply saddened” by his passing. Willhoite was an IT customer service special with the local transit agency and was admired by his colleagues, Pierce Transit said in a statement.

“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,” Pierce Transit said.

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His colleague, Chris Karnes, mourned Willhoite on social media Tuesday. 

“It’s heartbreaking to hear that @PierceTransit employee and rail aficionado Zack Willhoite did not survive the derailment,” he tweeted. “He helped our advisory committee with IT issues, and behind the scenes he was a writer and advocate for better transit for all.”

Karnes, who was a passenger on the train when it derailed, previously described the horror of the derailment. 

“All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and then all of a sudden it felt like we were heading down a hill,” he told CBS News Monday, “and the next thing that we know, we’re being slammed into the front of our seats, and the windows are breaking, and then we stop, and there’s water that’s gushing out of the top of the train, and all the lights go out and people are screaming.” 

Bella Dinh-Zarr, an National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member, said Monday evening that it’s currently unclear what caused the derailment and “it’s too early to tell” why it was going so fast.

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