Railroad will allow track, signal tests in Texas crash probe

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 07, 2012 9:57 PM

By Matthew Waller

SAN ANGELO, Texas (Reuters) - The Union Pacific Railroad will allow attorneys representing victims of a train crash that killed four wounded U.S. military veterans in Texas to conduct their own tests of tracks, signals and a locomotive horn, a lawyer for the victims said on Friday.

"They gave us what we asked for without the necessity of the court ordering," attorney Kevin Glasheen said.

Four veterans were killed and at least 14 people were injured when a Union Pacific freight train slammed into a parade float at a railroad crossing in Midland, Texas, last month.

The collision occurred at the start of a weekend of festivities to honor veterans wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Some of the veterans injured in the crash have sued Union Pacific and Smith Industries, the Midland-based company that owns the truck that was pulling the trailer that a dozen war-wounded veterans and their wives were riding on.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs will also be allowed to inspect the truck.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said the company would provide a locomotive to go over the crossing in question and that it was cooperating with plaintiffs' attorneys.

The lawsuit accuses Union Pacific of failing to provide a safe crossing or a proper signal warning of an approaching train. It also says the truck driver failed to exercise reasonable care for his passengers.

Attorneys for the victims say the truck should have had 30 seconds of warning time, but only had 20. "We think that the root cause of the accident is the short warning time," Glasheen said.

Espinoza said the truck had driven onto the track 8 seconds after signals began operating, citing National Transportation Safety Board information released late last month.

"We want to be as transparent as possible, but we still think it's important to focus on NTSB's timeline," Espinoza said.

Midland Police has no plans to file charges against the driver of the truck, Dale Andrew Hayden, 50, at this time, city spokeswoman Sara Higgins said.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Richard Sanchez, an Army sergeant who pushed his wife to safety during the crash and sustained a spinal cord fracture that has left him with no feeling or movement in his legs, Glasheen said.

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.

(Reporting By Matthew Waller; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Xavier Briand)