Family Of Train Wreck Victims Sues Railroad; Cleanup Halted
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UPDATED 07/06/12 – 4:10 p.m.
GLENVIEW, Ill. (CBS) — The family of a Glenview couple killed in a train derailment and bridge collapse has filed a wrongful death suit against Union Pacific Railroad over the incident, and a judge has ordered cleanup of the wreck halted to preserve evidence in the case.
CBS 2′s Brad Edwards reports Robert Lindner filed the lawsuit in Cook County on Friday, on behalf of his parents, Burton and Zorine Lindner. Their bodies were found Thursday inside a car that had been crushed in the rubble of the July 4th train wreck near the Glenview-Northbrook border.
Cook County Judge William Maddox has granted a request from the Lindner family’s attorneys to temporarily halt cleanup of the wreck, in order to preserve evidence for their lawsuit against Union Pacific.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports
“We’re here to get some answers as to why something this tragic happened,” family attorney Michael LaMonica said. “So far, it’s been Union Pacific that’s been doing the investigating. If we couldn’t trust them to keep their trains on the track, I’m not sure that we should sit back and trust them to lead the investigation, so we obtained a court order to get them off the premises. They’ve already manipulated a lot of the evidence that’s out there. You see it’s not in the same condition that it was yesterday.”
The lawsuit alleges the railroad failed to properly maintain or repair the tracks and bridge involved in the wreck.
Burton and Zorine Lindner — 69 and 70 years old, respectively — were driving on Shermer Road, just south of Willow Road, on Wednesday when a Union Pacific freight train hauling coal from Wyoming to Wisconsin derailed on the railroad bridge overhead. The bridge collapsed, and wreckage crushed their car underneath.
Burton Lindner was a founding partner of the Lindner & Lindner law firm, based in Chicago. LaMonica said he worked with Lindner for four years, and considered him a mentor, so he was worried on Thursday when Lindner didn’t show up at the office they shared on the day after the July 4th holiday.
Initially, authorities said no one had been injured in the wreck, but crews cleaning up the debris found a bumper on Thursday, and eventually dug out the crushed car, and found the two bodies inside.
Officials have said it is possible that other victims could be buried in the rubble.
“Because of the abundance of the debris, they are continuing to search for other vehicles that may or may not be there,” said Glenview village spokeswoman Lynne Stiefel.
So far, only the one vehicle has been found. Meanwhile, the area where the bridge was located has been filled in by the Union Pacific Railroad so freight traffic can resume along a set of temporary tracks at the site of the collapsed bridge. Officials from Glenview and Northbrook also met with railroad officials on Friday, and were told a more permanent replacement bridge could be in place within two months, to allow Shermer Road to reopen at the site of the wreck.
Thirty-one of the cars on the 138-car freight train derailed around 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, spilling a massive amount of coal. The train was hauling coal from Wyoming to Wisconsin at the time.
Union Pacific officials have said preliminary findings have ruled out the bridge collapse as the cause of the derailment, noting the bridge was not designed to carry the load of 28 derailed coal cars at one time. Each car averages 75 to 85 tons in weight, but can weigh as much as 100 tons.
Spokesman Mark Davis said Thursday that one possible cause could have been the extreme heat causing the steel rails to expand, leading to a derailment.
LaMonica said he doesn’t buy that argument.
“We refuse to accept the fact that it was hot outside, so a train can come flying off the tracks and kill somebody,” LaMonica said. “I don’t care how hot it was, trains aren’t supposed to fly off the tracks and crush innocent people.”
LaMonica also noted a derailment happened at the same spot in 2009.
Officials have said it could take months to clean up all the wreckage and fully repair the tracks and bridge.
Several telephone poles were also knocked down, and sparks from live power lines ignited a fire in the nearby grass and weeds, but the fire was quickly put out.
The affected stretch of track is freight-only, so commuter trains were not affected.