Questions linger after fatal Amtrak train crash

Dump truck driver Seeram Matadial killed in Orlando wreck

Published On: Nov 30 2012 11:16:51 AM EST   Updated On: Nov 30 2012 06:59:18 PM EST
AmtrakCrash-Locomotive
ORLANDO, Fla. -

A day after a dump truck driver was struck and killed by an Amtrak train in Orlando, questions linger about the deadly crash.

Seeram Matadial, 44, of Orlando, was ejected and killed in the crash, which occurred Thursday morning at Glen Rose Avenue and Orange Avenue in Pine Castle.

[PICS: Train collides with dump truck | VIDEO: Dump truck, train collision | Damage at scene | Amtrak's past incidents]

Witnesses told Local 6 that Matadial's wife said she was on the phone with her husband when the 10-car train, headed from New York to Miami, struck him.

Investigators, however, have not confirmed that Matadial was on his cellphone when the train split his truck in half. The Florida Highway Patrol said that federal law prohibits drivers from talking on the phone while operating commercial vehicles.

FHP also said that Matadial did not stop at a stop sign and drove directly into the path of the train, which was traveling at 60 mph, so if Matadial was on the phone, he would have broken two laws.

The dump truck, which was carrying rocks, was pushed about a quarter-mile before erupting in flames.

Troopers said 10 train passengers were taken to three area hospitals with minor injuries.

It also has not been determined whether the train's horn sounded, as required by law, before reaching the intersection. Some witnesses said they didn't hear the train's horns.

"Never heard the train, until after the impact, he was laying on that horn," said John Belanger.

Another witness told Local 6 it was the other way around.

"I could hear a whistle blowing from the train and as soon as he put the whistle on it was like a big explosion," the other witness said.

Federal law states a train must sound its horn within 15 to 20 seconds of approaching an intersection, meaning if the train was traveling at 60 or 70 miles per hour that would be about 1,500 feet away from the intersection.

Florida Highway Patrol said technology on the train proves the conductor hit the emergency brake, which automatically sounds the horn, before the crash. Troopers said it's unclear how far away the train was from the intersection when the horn blew because no witnesses can verify it.

Since 2002, including Thursday’s crash, four drivers and a passenger have been killed in four separate crashes with Amtrak trains at the same crossing, according to Federal Railroad Administration records.

"This intersection is not traveled by many vehicles," FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said.  "It's only used by vehicles going to the business behind the tracks. Drivers have a responsibility. If a train is coming, it has the right of way."

No lights or crossing arms exist at the intersection, but the Florida Department of Transportation, which owns the tracks, said the crossing is slated to get crossing rails because of the SunRail project, which is under construction.

Matadial's family expressed concern over the lack of safety features at the intersection.

"How is he going to know that a train is coming? There's no crossing arm," said Matadial's son, Jalicharan Sing.

The wreckage was cleared from the tracks on Thursday, and Amtrak said its trains were operating under normal schedules on Friday.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.