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“They had wanted to be on that very, very first run," said a friend of Amtrak victims James Hamre and Zack Willhoite

By Caitlin Keating
December 19, 2017 03:32 PM
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James Hamre was traveling alongside close friend Zack Willhoite when both were killed on the Amtrak train that they had been looking forward to riding together.

The pair were traveling on the train that derailed near Tacoma, Washington, on Monday, and according to one close friend they were both excited about what the inaugural journey offered for the Pacific Northwest.

“It was just a given that they would be there,” Lloyd Flem, a colleague and friend told The New York Times. “They had wanted to be on that very, very first run.”

Hamre and Willhoite both volunteered at All Aboard Washington, a rail advocacy group in which Flem is the executive director. He recalls seeing the two men just days before the accident, and remembers them being happy and excited to ride train No. 501 early on Monday morning.

He added: “They’re two of the hardest of the hardcore, dependable people.”

Hamre’s brother Michael also told the newspaper that their family’s fascination with trains goes back a century.

“We have always had trains in our blood,” he said.

Hamre — who never married or had children, and retired as a civil engineer for the Washington State Department of Transportation — had been all over Europe, Africa and Australia, his brother said.

“He chases trains. He’s got a radio that connects to theirs. He’ll take trains to Montana. He’s got quite a collection of photographs of them.”

Warren-Yee-jim-hamre-Zack-Willhoite
From left to right: Warren Yee, James “Jim” Hamre and Zack Willhoite.
| Credit: Courtesy Warren Yee

Another friend of Hamre’s told The Seattle Times that their “community is poorer for his loss.”

“Jim was among the country’s most respected and effective rail advocates and a good friend and mentor to me,” Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, told the newspaper.

Willhoite, who was a public transit worker, had been employed at Pierce Transit since 2008.

“He has always been deeply appreciated and admired by his colleagues, and played an important role at our agency,” the statement read in part. “He will be sincerely missed. Our thoughts are with Zack’s family, as well as the families of the other victims, during this very difficult time.”

Willhoite and Hamre were among several people who died after the Amtrak passenger train derailed. It caused several cars to dangle over a busy highway, according to officials and news reports.