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First victims in Amtrak derailment identified as rail advocates

Amtrak derailment
Investigators looking at possible distractions in Amtrak derailment 02:35

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

Pierce Transit said Monday that one of its employees, 35-year-old Zack Willhoite, was killed in the crash, and said its team was "deeply saddened" by his passing. Willhoite was an IT customer service specialist with the transit agency and he was admired by his colleagues, the company said.

"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.

Zack Willhoite Handout

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."

Jim Hamre, 61, was also identified Tuesday as a victim in the crash, CBS News confirms. Hamre was a retired civil engineer with the state Transportation Department and a member of the All Aboard Washington advocacy group. Hamre and Willhoite were best friends, according to CBS affiliate KIRO-TV.

Hamre was a rail enthusiast and Rail Passengers Association (RPA) member, KIRO-TV reports. The association said Hamre was devoted to his family and friends and passionate about railroad advocacy.

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."

Lloyd Flem, the group's executive director, told The Associated Press that news of Hamre's passing has been "pretty devastating."

"We're having a tough time," Flem said.

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.

NTSB on investigation into Washington Amtrak derailment 01:26
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