Train-Loving Best Friends Named as Victims in Fatal Amtrak Derailment

Zack Willhoite and Jim Hamre were aboard the No. 501 train when it flew off the rails Monday.

Two of the victims of Monday's fatal Amtrak train derailment have been named and, according to local reports, the men were best friends.

Lifelong rail enthusiast and employee of the county's public transit authority Zack Willhoite, 35, was named Tuesday as one of the three people killed when train No. 501 was left dangling from an overpass after its inaugural trip on a brand new route came to a grinding halt.

The other victim was identified as Willhoite's fellow train lover, 61-year-old Jim Hamre. The men were best friends, according to local reports.

"The entire Pierce Transit team was deeply saddened to learn that one of our employees was a victim of the Dec. 18 Amtrak train accident," the organization said in a statement following the news of Willhoite's death.

Hamre was a retired civil engineer with the state Transportation Department and a member of the All Aboard Washington advocacy group.

"Jim was among the country's most-respected and effective rail advocates and a good friend and mentor to me. I will miss his counsel, and our community is poorer for his loss," said Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association.

The men were killed after the train, on its maiden voyage down a corridor created as part of a recently completed $180.7 million project, rounded a turn at what inspectors say was far too high a speed.

National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said the train was going 80 mph around the curve that had a 30 mph speed limit. It left the tracks, causing cars to fall off an overpass and onto Interstate 5 outside Olympia.

In addition to the three fatalities, dozens were injured, many of them seriously. Investigators are now trying to piece together what happened in the moments prior to the crash.