Amtrak, others blamed for deadly collision

Michelle Massey Jul. 16, 2010, 3:55am

An obstructed view is to blame for a vehicle and train collision that killed a pregnant woman and her four children, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

Cecilia E. Alfaro, individually and on behalf of her child and four deceased grandchildren along with Enrrique Herra Mejia, individually and on behalf of his deceased unborn child, filed suit against National Railroad Passenger Corp., doing business as Amtrak, Illinois Central Railroad Co. doing business as Canadian National/Illinois Central, Tangipahoa Parish Council and the State of Louisiana through the Department of Transportation and Development July 1 in Tangipahoa Parish District Court. The defendants removed the case to federal court in New Orleans July 6.

The collision happened June 18 on Capace Road when Alfaro's 18-year-old daughter drove a Ford Windstar into a railroad crossing and was hit by a train. According to the lawsuit, Emelia Isabel Alfaro looked both directions to determine if it was safe to drive across the tracks.

"However, the distance which your petitioner could look down the aforesaid tracks at this crossing without the vehicle being in a precarious position was limited by the following: the design of the road, the design of the crossing, high grass, weeds and other obstructions," the lawsuit reads.

Inside the van were Alfaro, who was seven months pregnant, and her four children. According to court records, the Amtrak train was moving in excess of 70 miles per hour when it hit the passenger side of the Windstar. Two of the children were thrown from the van. The other two were pinned inside. All died in the crash, including Alfaro's unborn child.

The lawsuit claims the railroad crossing in question does not have lights or raising protective arms, is only equipped with cross buck signs which do not provide sufficient warnings as required by federal regulations and has been the site of numerous previous accidents.

Amtrak is accused of negligence for failing to maintain a proper lookout, operating its train at an excessive speed and failing to sound horn for at least 20 seconds in its approach to the Capace Road crossing.

Canadian National is accused of failing to properly maintain its railroad crossing, failing to install proper warning devices, failing to properly place warning devices, and failing to maintain the railroad right of way.

Tangipahoa Parish Council and Louisiana's Department of Transportation and Development are accused of failing to install proper warning devices, failing to regulate train speeds, failing to properly maintain the approaches and the railroad crossing, failing to adequately post and maintain its traffic regulatory signs, failing to comply with federal regulations, and failing to warn of the dangers of the defective and inadequately designed and constructed road.

The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages.

The petitioners are represented by Donald G. Cave and Michael L. Cave of Cave Law Firm in Baton Rouge.

U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon is assigned to the case. A jury trial is requested.

Case No. 2:10cv01912

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