Lawsuit filed in fatal derailment
The Federal Railroad Administration said there were 10 Union Pacific train derailments in Illinois from January through April, according to railroad administration safety data. Of the derailments, eight were caused by a track issue, while one was caused by a human error and one was caused by equipment failure.
Updated: July 9, 2012 1:12PM
A train derailed on the Northbrook-Glenview border on the Fourth of July, right around the corner from where some of Michael LaMonica’s friends lived.
LaMonica saw on the news how the cars tumbled off the tracks, collapsing a bridge over Shermer Road.
No one was hurt, the railroad announced, amid the heaps of metal, concrete and coal clogging the underpass.
All the same, LaMonica said Friday, he called Burt Lindner on Thursday morning, an hour after the attorney would usually have shown up to the office space they shared.
“I called him, half-joking,” LaMonica told reporters Friday, yards from piles of track slices and metal train wheels. “Hey Burt, you sleeping in? Give me a call.”
It would be hours before LaMonica would learn that his friend and his wife had been killed in that horrible wreck.
Burton Lindner, 69, and his wife of nearly 47 years, Zorine, 70, were pulled out of the debris of train cars, rails and bridge debris 17 hours after some 28 Union Pacific train cars jumped their tracks near Willow Road on Wednesday afternoon and mangled the couples’s black Lexus as they drove under the viaduct.
“I thought he’d make fun of me for even calling to check on him,” LaMonica said of his mentor and first boss. “He was such an easy-going, great guy.”
LaMonica filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday morning in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of the couple’s elder son, Robert Lindner, and asked a judge to bar Union Pacific from doing any more work at crash site and requiring the rail company to preserve all evidence already collected.
Judge William Maddux signed the order stopping the cleanup until 11 p.m. Saturday.
By the time he did, temporary tracks had already been laid; the viaduct over Shermer Road had already been filled in with gravel and the first train to travel those tracks since the accident occurred Wednesday came through shortly after noon Friday.
“Union Pacific has already created a makeshift bridge and already has trains going over this spot,” LaMonica said Friday afternoon a few hundred feet from the crash, where chewed-up rail cars remained in a pile. “Which shows you they’re more interested in having their business carry on the day after this tragedy than they are allowing a real, thorough investigation to determine why these two amazing lives were taken.”
Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said all trains, operations and cleanup at the site stopped after the company received the order, which happened about 1:25 p.m. Friday.
A representative of the Federal Railroad Administration evaluated Friday afternoon the integrity of the temporary bridge and confirmed the temporary bridge is structurally sound, according to a joint statement released Friday evening by the villages of Glenview and Northbrook.
Officials from the two villages met earlier in the day with area state and federal legislators with representatives of Union Pacific Railroad, the Federal Railroad Administration and Illinois Department of Transportation.
“We are pleased that UP and the FRA moved swiftly to address this public safety issue,” Glenview Village President Kerry Cummings said in a news release. “We must not forget that two Glenview residents died July 4, and that two previous derailments occurred at the Shermer Road viaduct – in 2009 and 1974.”
Ensuring the temporary structure’s integrity was of “the utmost importance” to the group “as will be the permanent viaduct installed to replace the structure that collapsed,” Cummings said in the statement.
The villages plan to send a letter to Union Pacific requesting information and documents, including inspection reports, related both to the safety of the temporary rail bed embankment and the permanent replacement viaduct that UP estimated would be installed in about two months, according to the news release.
The communities also asked UP representatives to appear at a community meeting in Glenview on July 16 to explain the circumstances of the derailment, the safety history of the viaduct and to provide detailed information and schedules regarding construction of the replacement viaduct.
The lawsuit filed by the Lindner family claims Union Pacific was negligent by not keeping its viaducts and tracks safe.
Union Pacific failed to properly build and repair its tracks near the viaduct and failed to take notice of “dangerous and safe operating conditions,” the suit said.
The suit also alleges the railroad “negligently conducted’ an inadequate inspection of the track. The railroad has previously said the tracks were inspected the day of the accident because of possible effects on the rails of the extreme heat that day.
Union Pacific officials said their train derailed before the viaduct collapsed. The massive weight of the cars cascading onto the pileup was more than the bridge was designed to handle, they said. Wednesday’s intense heat could have made the steel rails expand, causing the derailment and subsequent bridge collapse, the railroad said.
Both the railroad and the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating the accident.
“We’re here to get some answers as to why something this tragic happened,” LaMonica said. “And we refuse to accept the fact that it was hot outside so a train went flying off the track, because that’s unacceptable.”
It was more than 100 degrees on Wednesday. The couple’s sons and wives and children were out of town so the pair had the holiday to themselves, LaMonica said. Burt talked about going to the Botanical Gardens if it didn’t get too hot, then out to dinner with his wife.
They didn’t get far. Just outside the Princeton Village gated community where they’d lived for many years, driving south on Shermer Road, they were crushed.
It was the same spot where an 18-car Canadian Pacific freight train had derailed in 2009, causing an evacuation of the immediate area but injuring none. And it was the same bridge that was closed for three months just last year while it was rehabbed.
On Friday, the attorneys begged privacy for the Lindner family to grieve together, not wanting to be found while they planned a double funeral for Sunday at the couple’s Deerfield temple, and the sons identified their parents’ bodies at the Cook County morgue