Authorities Identify Other Two Victims in Amtrak Derailment As Georgia Couple Celebrating 50th Anniversary

by Jon D. B.

Two of the three victims of Amtrak’s deadly Montana Derailment have been identified: Marjorie and Donald Varnadoe of Georgia.

Montana’s Amtrak tragedy led to the loss of 3 lives Saturday, September 25. The victims of the Empire Builder passenger train, which tipped then crashed off the tracks three miles west of Joplin, have now been identified.

According to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, the deaths include a Georgia couple traveling along Montana’s Hi-Line to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Donald Varnadoe, 74, and his wife Marjorie, 72, would die in the crash.

The safety board took to the scene of the derailment Monday. Investigators would then release the victims’ names to the public Tuesday, with local 3KRTV reporting.

28-year-old Illinois resident Zach Schneider would also lose his life to the Amtrak crash. His wife, Rebecca, was traveling with him but was not hurt. The two Green Bay Packers fans were on their way to Portland, Oregon; the site of their honeymoon 7 years prior.

Rebecca describes her late husband as a “funny, kind, compassionate, intelligent and beautiful man.”

Zach was “an incredible husband, software developer, debate coach, and friend,” she adds in a public statement. “He loved board games, bonfires, the Packers and good BBQ. He was fiercely loved by his wife, family, friends and pets, and will be dearly missed.”

Alongside these three tragic losses, others would survive with serious injuries. 3KRTV reports Andrew Sivula, also bound for Portland via Amtrak, was lying in his compartment quarters when “a loud bang” awoke him. “Then the cars tipped,” he tells the station.

Amtrak’s Deadly Derailment Leaves 3 Dead, Dozens Injured in Montana

Another survivor, Wayne Freed, would switch cars right as the derailment began.

“My legs were dangling down below and the windows broke out down below,” he says of the crash. When the train flipped onto its side, Freed would “hang on for dear life.”

Thankfully, however, those broken windows are “how we eventually escaped,” he adds.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte reports a further 5 individuals who are still in the hospital. Their conditions are currently stable. At his news conference this week, Gov. Gianforte said all others with injuries are now out of medical care.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the crash Tuesday, and will for some time. The scenes of the derailment, tip, and crash are being “combed” for clues as to why this passenger train suddenly took a deadly turn. Investigators confirm Amtrak’s Empire Builder was below the 79-mile per hour speed limit at the time of its derailment.

Moreover, the tracks underwent regular inspection a mere two days prior.

There are no known causes as of Tuesday. NTSB vice chairman Bruce Landsberg says his organization is “not ruling anything out at this point. Instead, “We have ruled everything in,” he cites. Landsberg adds that NTSB will continue to investigate the Amtrak’s course and sight of crash “for about a week.”

A preliminary report will be available within 30 days. Investigators present include those with expertise in rail operations, mechanics, human performance, tracks, and more. Leading the charge is Jim Southworth, who has more than 25 years of experience in rail investigations. He is currently Investigator-In-Charge.

The Montana government and Amtrak are currently working together to prevent future tragedies.