Friends killed in Amtrak derailment remembered for efforts to expand railway service

DUPONT --  Before Christmas every year Lloyd Flem always got a card from one of his best friends Jim Hamre.

“By the time this came to the post office mail box here we had lost him,” Flem said.

Jim’s last Christmas card arrived just a couple of hours after he lost his life in the Amtrak derailment.

“He was extremely knowledgeable about rails operations,” Flem said.

Their friendship was born from a love of trains. Jim, a retired WSDOT employee, also worked with Flem for decades at All Aboard Washington, an advocacy group pushing for passenger rail.

“That’s the irony of that situation,” Flem said.

In the last moments of Jim’s life, he was with another All Aboard Washington member, Zack Willhoite.

“They traveled a lot on trains around the country,” Flem said.

The two close friends boarded Amtrak Cascades 501 along with more than 80 other people on Dec. 18, 2017.

“We lost him and Zack, I was stunned,” Flem said.

Three people died and dozens were injured when all 12 cars derailed onto I-5 or along the highway.

“We all know what happened,” Zack's cousin Bailey Staggs said.

Staggs says Zack was elated to get a ticket for the inaugural run of Amtrak’s new passenger route from Seattle to Portland.

“He was passionate, I don’t know how else to explain it,” Staggs said.

Zack was an employee for Pierce Transit, and Staggs says he was living life exactly how he had dreamed.

“He memorized every bus route and every train route,” Staggs said.

Staggs says her cousin had recently married the love of his life, sharing his passion with her.

“The way he looked at his wife, I didn’t see anything like that,” Staggs said.

In his memory, Staggs says she is living her best life.

“I am doing what I love because that’s why he would want everyone to do,” Staggs said.

“Keep your friends and loved ones close, you don’t know,” Flem said.

Flem says he’s chosen not to focus on how his friends died but what they accomplished.

“It’s not my role to talk about blame that’s the NTSB’s deal,” Flem said.

He says our region’s transit is better today because of Jim and Zack’s love for rail travel.

After Jim’s death, the Railway Passenger Association, a national organization, recognized Jim for four decades he dedicated to expand passenger rail service.

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