Zack Willhoite: Lifelong rail, transit enthusiast killed in train derailment

Nearly a day after the catastrophic train derailment in Washington state, family, friends and colleagues are remembering a man who was a lifelong enthusiast of rails and public transit.

Pierce County Transit identified Zack Willhoite, one of their employees, as one of the three killed when the train went off an overpass and dangled above Interstate 5 in DuPont. Willhoite was also a member of the Rail Passengers Association, and he also served as the Director of Information Technology for All Aboard Washington.

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“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,” a statement from Pierce County.

“IT Customer Service Support Specialist Zack Willhoite has been a Pierce Transit employee since 2008. He has always been deeply appreciated and admired by his colleagues, and played an important role at our agency. 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.”

>> Find his GoFundMe here.

In a Facebook post to KIRO 7, friends and family shared that they were looking for Willhoite for hours on Monday. The post said Willhoite was with his best friend Jim Hamre on the inaugural run of train 501 along a fast new bypass that was created by refurbishing freight tracks.




When the train went along a curve before the overpass – hurtling at 50 mph over the speed limit – it jumped the tracks. The screech and clang of metal was followed by silence, then screams, as the injured cried out to rescuers and motorists who pulled over and rushed to help.

More than 70 people were injured, 10 of them seriously. Hamre was also killed.

Pierce Transit Advisory board member Chris Karnes wrote about the devastating crash that killed a “rail aficionado.”

Karnes sent a following tweet advocating for positive train control, which is a technology that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train. This kind of control wasn’t in use on the stretch of track where the train derailed.

More on derailment from KIRO 7