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Fairview Heights man killed in Amtrak derailment remembered as dedicated husband and coach

Zach Schneider, 28, was one of the three killed when cars derailed near Joplin, Montana, Saturday

FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. — When an Amtrak train derailed near Joplin, Montana, Saturday, videos taken by passengers afterward showed several cars on their sides scattered along a dusty, rural track. Three people were killed in the accident, including a Fairview Heights man, Zach Schneider.

Schneider, 28, was on a cross-country trip with his wife, Becca, 26. The two were headed to Portland, Oregon, on a passenger train with about 160 people. 

Becca told 5 On Your Side she's still in Montana and issued this statement: 

"Zach Schneider was a funny, kind, compassionate, intelligent, and beautiful man. He was an incredible husband, software developer, debate coach, and friend. He loved board games, bonfires, the Packers and good BBQ (especially from 17th Street). He was fiercely loved by his wife, family, friends, and pets, and will be dearly missed."

Credit: Becca Schneider

A software engineer with Stripe, Schneider was also passionate about debate, winning multiple college national championships before becoming an assistant coach with McKendree University in March 2017.

"His goal was for students both at McKendree and in the broader debate community to have an educational and personally fulfilling experience in debate, and he worked tirelessly to that end – writing and editing arguments, judging debates, providing post-tournament feedback, organizing tournaments, and leading national debate organizations," McKendree debate director Joe Blasdel wrote to faculty and staff following Schneider's death.

Credit: AP
Workers stand near train tracks, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, next to overturned cars from an Amtrak train that derailed Saturday, near Joplin, Mont., killing three people and injuring others. Federal investigators are seeking the cause of the derailment. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Blasdel said Schneider's election to the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence board showed "an unprecedented level of service," explaining it was a level of commitment usually undertaken only by full-time debate coaches.

A GoFundMe account to help with Schneider's funeral costs met and exceeded organizers' $20,000 goal within the first 24 hours online.

Organizers said they are still determining what caused the derailment. In a Monday afternoon briefing, they said the locomotive's black box showed speeds between 75-78 mph, which is below the area's 79 mph speed limit.

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