Two others died when the Portland-bound train derailed onto Interstate 5: friends Zack Willhoite, 35, and Jim Hamre, 61.
Benjamin Gran, 40, of Auburn, was among those who died in Monday’s Amtrak train derailment, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office.
His mother, Linda Daniels, spoke Wednesday through the closed front door of her family home in Auburn, decorated outside with Christmas lights.
Trains were his passion, she said. “The most important thing to Ben was an Amtrak train,” she said, and, so of course he had to be on that inaugural trip.
She followed up in an email: “Ben was my 40-year-old, autistic, but awesomely autistic son … who was an Amtrak fan to the max. He lived, breathed Amtrak since he was 2 years old.”
She said she learned of the train crash when her phone started filling with messages.
“I said, ‘No, no, no.”
Daniels called her son’s cell phone.
“It went to voice mail,” she said.
She said that it wasn’t until 30 hours after the crash that a Washington State Patrol came to her home, where her son also lived, along with her husband, Lloyd Daniels.
“Thirty hours to locate my son, to extricate his body,” she said. “What brutal torture for a family to go through.”
She said she had hardly slept since, and was distraught about how her son might be remembered.
In 2013, he became the subject of news coverage when he was arrested along with dozens of others in an international investigation into child pornography. He later pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to 24 months in prison by U.S. District Judge James Robart, who found Gran’s acceptance of responsibility and his autism to be significant factors in justifying a light sentence.
“If the statistics are to be believed, pornography is rampant on the Internet, and it is too easily available to people who may not even understand what they’re getting into, and that’s the lesson that I hope people will take from Mr. Gran’s situation,” Robart said at Gran’s sentencing in February 2014. He was released from prison the following year.
Daniels said her son “had no interest in children.”
“ . . . he made a mistake that he paid dearly for, and because of his optimism, a team of professionals and his best friends who believed in Ben, he turned his life completely around and was living his life in a mature, contributing manner, and was the happiest he had been in his life,” she wrote Wednesday.
Two others died when the Portland-bound train derailed onto Interstate 5 Monday: Zack Willhoite, 35, and Jim Hamre, 61. Dozens of people, both train passengers and drivers on the freeway, suffered injuries.
Pierce Transit, where Willhoite worked as customer-service specialist, identified him early Tuesday, shortly before those close to Hamre confirmed his death, as well.
Monday’s derailment came during the inaugural trip for the Point Defiance bypass, a new section of track on Amtrak’s Cascades route.
Federal transportation officials have yet to determine what caused the crash, though they have said an engineer never applied the emergency brakes and the train was traveling 50 mph faster than the posted speed limit when it derailed near Mounts Road, outside of DuPont.
After the derailment, county and state agencies from throughout Western Washington went to the Amtrak train-crash site, while passengers escaped by breaking windows and pushing through debris. Drivers on the freeway were halted, some of them injured by falling train cars. Witnesses raced to pull people from the wreckage and give first aid.
Medics took those wounded to hospitals around the region, and many remained hospitalized Wednesday.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.