Trucker may have been texting or talking on phone before Amtrak collision

Firefighters work at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train that collided with a tractor-trailer in July 2011, in North Berwick.
EJ Hersom, Foster's Daily Democrat | AP
Firefighters work at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train that collided with a tractor-trailer in July 2011, in North Berwick.
Posted Sept. 19, 2011, at 5:44 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 19, 2011, at 11:03 p.m.
A Maine state police officer inspects the remnants of a tractor-trailer that collided with an Amtrak passenger train in North Berwick in July 2011. The driver of the tractor-trailer died at the scene and several train passengers were injured.
EJ Hersom, Foster's Daily Democrat | AP
A Maine state police officer inspects the remnants of a tractor-trailer that collided with an Amtrak passenger train in North Berwick in July 2011. The driver of the tractor-trailer died at the scene and several train passengers were injured.

NORTH BERWICK, Maine — The driver of a tractor-trailer that collided with Amtrak’s Downeaster in the town of North Berwick in July may have been distracted by using a mobile communication device, investigators said Monday.

A statement by the North Berwick Police Department said the fiery collision was caused by tractor-trailer driver Peter Barnum, 35, of Farmington, N.H., who was killed in the July 11 collision at a gate crossing 40 miles south of Portland.

“It appears with the investigation complete that the cause of this crash is driver inattention/distraction by the possible use of a mobile communication device by Mr. Barnum,” North Berwick Police Lt. James Moulton said in a statement Monday.

Investigators examined Barnum’s cell phone records, GPS and other electronic equipment to try to figure out why the truck hauling more than 20 tons of garbage failed to stop in time for the train, which was traveling from Boston and Portland.

Police have said the truck left about 200 feet of skidmarks leading to the point of impact.

The locomotive, which caught fire, was separated from the five passenger cars by the impact. Four passengers and two Amtrak crew members were injured, none seriously.

The executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which runs the rail service between Portland and Boston, said Monday she had not been briefed on the police report. A spokesman for Barnum’s employer, Triumvirate Environmental Inc. of Somerville, Mass., declined comment.

The police statement, first reported by the Portland Press Herald, indicated the flashing lights and gate were working properly at the time of the collision.

Moulton’s statement didn’t delve into details. Neither he nor Police Chief Stephen Peasley could be reached for comment Monday.

The Downeaster, with 112 passengers, was traveling about 70 mph at the time of the collision with the tractor-trailer, which was hauling trash from a transfer station in Kittery to the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator in Biddeford.

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