KANKAKEE, Ill. – The trucker involved in a 1999 Amtrak derailment that killed 11 people was convicted Wednesday of felony charges for violating rules governing hours truckers can be on the road.
The crash near Bourbonnais also injured 122 others aboard Amtrak’s City of New Orleans and pushed federal officials to change truckers’ hours-of-service rules for the first time since 1939.
John R. Stokes was found guilty by Circuit Judge Clark Erickson of willfully violating the maximum time limit for commercial truckers and of willful failure to keep an accurate logbook, said prosecutor Bill Elward.
Stokes faces a possible prison term of one to three years, Elward said.
Stokes was driving a truck carrying steel that ran into the path of the train at a crossing March 15, 1999. The impact derailed the train, sending it smashing into rail cars loaded with steel beside the tracks.
The National Transportation Safety Board ruled his failure to heed crossing signals and gates caused the accident. Investigators also said Stokes had gotten just three to five hours of sleep in the 38 hours before the accident; federal rules at the time required an eight-hour break after 10 hours of driving.
Within months of the crash, the Federal Highway Administration began pushing for stricter driving limits, but trucking interests fought them. New rules that finally took effect in January allow truckers to stay on the road an hour longer, up to 11 straight hours, but require they then take 10 hours off.