L&I issues fines in fatal train-vehicle crash

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

Published:

 

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has fined the shuttle service Coach America more than $13,000 following a train-vehicle crash that killed three people and critically injured another.

The fine, which Coach America has appealed, is the result of a five-month investigation following the March 23 crash in Kelso.

A Coach America van was transporting three BNSF Railway employees when it was struck by a freight train at a private crossing off Talley Way in south Kelso.

Skyview High School graduate and BNSF employee Chris Loehr, 28, was killed in the collision. BNSF employee Tom Kenny, 58, of Seattle and Coach America employee Steven Sebastian, 60, of Castle Rock, were also killed. BNSF employee Dwight Hauck, 52, of Auburn, was critically injured.

The state fined the Dallas-based shuttle company $6,050 for failing to tailor its accident prevention program to the types of hazards drivers may encounter. Investigators found the company’s accident prevention program didn’t include any general or job specific rules for crew transport employees, according to an L&I report detailing the findings.

“This is a company who has 260 drivers in our state,” said Hector Castro, L&I spokesman. “When we looked at their accident prevention program, we didn’t see any language about driving.”

L&I also fined Coach America $7,000 for not implementing and enforcing safety training programs for employees and not providing on-the-job instruction to employees about hazards. Investigators also found there were no specific safety procedures in place to ensure that employees operating vehicles in and around the Kelso rail yard use safe procedures to cross the tracks, according to the report.

The maximum fine L&I can impose for each “serious” violation, such as the two in the Coach America case, is $7,000, under state statute, Castro said.

The state also found a general violation, which carried no financial penalty, because Coach America never notified L&I of their employee’s death. L&I officials learned of Sebastian’s death through media reports.

Coach America submitted a letter appealing the violations last week. The company argued the two violations labeled “serious” don’t warrant that rating and asked L&I to set aside or significantly reduce the fine amount.

“Crew Transport trains its drivers for the hazards expected in and around rail yards. However, there is no requirement in (state law) that ‘job rules’ be listed or that ‘hazards’ be addressed,” company vice president George Hanthorn wrote in the letter.

In addition, the company does not believe state law requires it to provide specific written safety procedures for safely crossing railroad tracks, he said. The company’s written accident prevention program meets the minimum requirements of the law, Hanthorn said.

Without conceding it violated state law, the company did modify its written accident prevention program to include a description of railroad-specific training drivers receive.

State and company officials will now meet with a hearings officer, who will make a determination on the appeal. The meeting date has not yet been set, Castro said.

The L&I investigation and fines only pertain to Coach America. The state does not have jurisdiction over BNSF, Castro said.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which does have jurisdiction over BNSF, continues to investigate the crash, said spokesman Warren Flatau. Investigators have completed their field work and are now analyzing and evaluating the findings, he said.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.

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