The family of a Metra passenger killed when a train crashed into a truck has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, saying the commuter rail agency and the BNSF railroad over which the train was traveling should have known that construction at the Clarendon Hills crossing made it hazardous.
In the lawsuit, one of the daughters who is administrator of the estate of Christina Lopez, who was killed in the crash, said ongoing construction at the crossing led to traffic backups, and “other vehicles had been stuck or impeded on the tracks.” Metra and BNSF “should have instructed, educated, trained, communicated, and/or informed” their employees to exercise caution around the crossing, she said in the suit.
The lawsuit, brought this week by Josephine Klonowski in Cook County court, also names as defendants a moving company that, according to the lawsuit, owned the truck that got stuck on the tracks, and an employee who it says was driving the truck. The employee has not been cited or charged, and the National Transportation Safety Board is continuing to investigate the crash.
Lopez, 72, was killed May 11, when the train she was riding on Metra’s BNSF line collided with a truck that was stuck on the tracks at the Prospect Avenue crossing, near the Clarendon Hills train station. Two other passengers had injuries not believed at the time to be life threatening, according to Metra, and two crew members were injured, the NTSB said in a preliminary report in June. Three people in the truck escaped before the collision and were not injured, according to the NTSB.
The train was not running its normal schedule, and was running express to Union Station at the time of the crash, Metra has said. The engine was at the rear of the train, meaning a rail car carrying passengers was the first to strike the truck, which rotated and gouged the side of the rail car, damaging the main level seating area and the train window, the NTSB said. Lopez was ejected from the rail car, and the truck burst into flames.
Lopez, who lived in Downers Grove, was on her way to visit one of her sisters in La Grange when the collision occurred. She was described by her family as a loving grandmother of five, a mom of three “very, very strong women,” and a devoted sister and friend to many.
Her death marked the second crash involving a passenger fatality in Metra’s history.
In the lawsuit, Klonowski accused Metra and BNSF of negligence because they failed to educate or inform their employees of the construction and conditions at the Prospect Avenue crossing and failed to take other steps, including putting in place a speed restriction.
The suit also accuses the moving company, Del’s Moving and Storage, and the truck driver of negligence.
Metra and BNSF declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.
A man who answered the phone at Del’s Moving also declined to comment or provide his name, and said the driver also declined to comment.
Understanding why the crash occurred would give Lopez’s family closure, said Steven Jambois, their attorney. He expected it would have taken a series of failures on several levels to cause Lopez’s death, he said.
“(The family is) really motivated to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and to really know what happened this time,” he said.