Georgia Couple Were on 'Dream' 50th Anniversary Trip When They Were Killed in Montana Amtrak Crash

An Amtrak train derailed in Montana on Saturday, killing three people and injuring dozens

Margie and Don Varnadoe
Margie and Don Varnadoe. Photo: Photo courtesy of Robert Kozlowski

A Georgia couple was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary when they were tragically killed after an Amtrak train derailed in Montana.

Passengers Don Varnadoe, 74, and Margie Varnadoe, 72, were identified as two of the three victims who died in the accident, the Associated Press reported. The couple was killed when the train derailed around 4 p.m.

On Saturday, the Empire Builder train 7/27 — which was traveling westbound from Chicago to Seattle/Portland — derailed on tracks near Joplin, Montana, Amtrak said in a statement.

According to the railroad service, there were approximately 141 passengers and 16 crew members onboard the train, which was composed of two locomotives and 10 cars. Eight of those cars ended up derailing.

On Sunday, Don's boss of 18 years, Robert Kozlowski, told AP that Don notified them about the exciting trip prior to leaving.

Don and Margie Varnadoe
Don and Margie Varnadoe. Photo courtesy of Robert Kozlowski

"He had called the office and said how excited they were. They were in Washington, D.C., and headed west," Kozlowski told the AP. "He said, 'This is our trip of a lifetime and we're so looking forward to it.' "

Kozlowski continued, "If you want an example of how to treat people, Don and Margie were them. With their faith and the way they treated people, they're in a good place, I think."

Amtrak Train Derails
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

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The third person killed in the accident was identified as 28-year-old Zach Schneider. At the time of the crash he was traveling to Portland on vacation with his wife Rebecca Schneider. Rebecca, who was also injured, has since filed a lawsuit against Amtrak for "preventable tragedy," claiming the rails were poorly maintained or defective, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Per the outlet, the fatal crash is the first for Amtrak since the company introduced its forced-arbitration policy in January 2019, which prohibits passengers and their families from suing the railroad following death or injury due to a crash — leaving many questions surrounding the fate of Schneider's wrongful death lawsuit.

Family and friends of Zach and Rebecca have since created a GoFundMe account to cover funeral expenses.

Following the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board announced an investigation into the derailment, led by vice chairman Bruce Landsberg and his 14-person team.

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During a press briefing Monday, Landsberg said officials are reviewing the train's black box to determine a cause of derailment. Investigators said the Amtrak train was traveling 75 to 78 mph — below the speed limit — at the time of the crash.

"We also have camera footage from forward-facing cameras that were located on the BNSF freight train that went through this section of track prior to the accident train and the accident train itself," Landsberg told reporters, according to NBC Montana.

Landsberg said a preliminary investigation should be completed within 30 days.

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