Truck driver’s widow killed in Amtrak wrongful-death case collision

The widow of a man who died when the truck he was driving… hit by an Amtrak train this week has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Erin Barton alleges that the Missouri railroad crossing where Billy Dean Barton II died was “ultra-dangerous,” due in part to the defendants’ failure to maintain the intersection.

The first of two defendants is Mariano Rodriguez, a BNSF Railway engineering manager. Rodriguez is responsible for ensuring “the safety, proper inspection and maintenance” of level crossings such as the one at Mendon, the suit says.

But the widow claims he failed to do so, citing “deteriorated vision triangles”, an “excessively small crossing angle” and other limitations, including “sloping approaches, undergrowth, trees and vegetation that prevent a full view of oncoming trains in some quadrants.” .” She said that “the surfaces of the crossing were narrow, rough and poorly maintained.”

A photo of the derailed Amtrak train in Missouri.  / Credit: Ron Goulet

A photo of the derailed Amtrak train in Missouri. / Credit: Ron Goulet

In addition, the level crossing didn’t have “bells, gates or lights” to warn vehicles of an approaching train — it just had crossbucks or signs saying the tracks were nearby, the suit says.

“These conditions on the crossing made for an extremely dangerous crossing,” the suit says, adding that the conditions had been like this for years.

The suit cited the fact that it takes trains a significant amount of time — perhaps up to a mile — to come to a complete stop. “This fact makes a well-guarded, inspected and maintained crossing critical to safety,” it says.

Given these alleged security concerns, Rodriguez “knew or should have known that crossing the Porche posed a serious danger to the public,” the indictment said.

On June 27, these failures culminated in the fatal collision and derailment, the lawsuit alleges. Erin Barton’s husband drove a dump truck across the intersection and “did not see or hear the train approaching with adequate warning to cross the track safely.”

The crash killed him and three others on the train, which was carrying 275 passengers and 12 crew members from Los Angeles to Chicago. Many others were injured in the incident.

Erin Barton is demanding $25,000 and prejudice for the costs incurred by filing the lawsuit.

She is also suing Chariton County, Missouri, where the crash occurred, for the same damages. The lawsuit alleges that the county has failed in its duty to properly design, inspect and maintain the roads, including the accesses to the intersection. It says the county has also violated several highway standards.

Prior to the accident, residents had reported several problems at the intersection to the county road authority, the suit said. Therefore, the suit claims, the county was aware of the problems, and its negligence “caused or contributed directly” to Barton’s death.

This is the first reported lawsuit filed as a result of the crash. More than 10 victims of the derailment, including the family of a deceased man, have hired lawyers “to represent their interests,” a separate law firm said in a statement to CBS News.

Sixteen investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene to determine the cause of the crash, chairman Jennifer Homendy said Wednesday. They will download the train’s event recorder and examine the train’s two forward-facing cameras, as well as the dump truck’s electronic control module.

She said the NTSB has been recommending “for several years” that passive crosswalks, such as the one at Mendon, be converted to active, closed or consolidated ones. She also pointed to a 1998 NTSB study that recommended that vehicles have technology that would alert drivers to trains in the area.

Amtrak said Monday night that it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the deaths, adding that it is cooperating with local authorities.

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