Veteran wounded in West Texas train crash plans lawsuit

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 19, 2012 8:33 PM
Veteran wounded in West Texas train crash plans lawsuit

By Matthew Waller

SAN ANGELO, Texas (Reuters) - Attorneys representing one of the U.S. military veterans injured last week when a freight train collided with a parade float in West Texas said on Monday they are preparing to file a lawsuit, probably against Union Pacific, the operator of the train.

Lawyers Kevin Glasheen and Bob Pottroff said they are representing the family of 31-year-old Army Sergeant Richard Sanchez, one of 16 people injured in the crash on Thursday at the parade in Midland, Texas that was part of planned events saluting U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Four veterans died in the crash.

Pottroff said he wants to challenge the National Transportation Safety Board's assertion that the train signal system had "functioned as designed" and that no anomalies were found with lights, bells or gates.

The signals gave 20 seconds of warning as required by federal law, the NTSB said. But Pottroff said the signals may have required additional time because of the crossing's design.

"If someone finally gets to the bottom of this, the signal should have given 30-plus seconds," Pottroff told Reuters.

With those extra 10 seconds, the arms of the crossing guard might have fallen in front of the float and saved lives, he said.

He said a lawsuit could be filed as early as Tuesday, likely targeting Union Pacific and possibly Midland-based Smith Industrial, the company that NTSB identified as having provided the flatbed trailer used as a parade float.

Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said the company is cooperating with the NTSB and federal, state and local officials to preserve evidence. Lange said the timing of warning signals vary depending on the design of the crossing but are always set within federal requirements.

"The timeline released by the NTSB confirms we met that requirement," he said in an email to Reuters.

He added: "The NTSB's findings also show, sadly, in this case the truck driver proceeded across the tracks in an unsafe manner despite the flashing red lights, which is no different than running a red light at a street intersection."

Event recorders show the train was traveling at 62 mph, below the 70 mph speed limit, NTSB officials have said.

A person who answered the phone at Smith Industries said the company had no comment.

Police have identified the dead as Marine Chief Warrant Officer Gary Stouffer, 37; Army Sergeant Major Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sergeant Major William Lubbers, 43; and Army Sergeant Joshua Michael, 34.

Sanchez, who pushed his wife, Heather, off the float to safety, sustained a spinal cord fracture and has had no feeling or movement in his legs since the accident, Glasheen said. He had already lost the use of his right arm after being wounded in Afghanistan in May.

"He is quite the hero," Glasheen said of Sanchez, a father of three who is based at Fort Carson, Colorado.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Christopher Wilson)