Union Pacific: Others responsible for fatal crash

Updated at: 02/25/2013 5:38 PM
By DANNY ROBBINS

(AP) DALLAS - If lawsuits stemming from last year’s train collision that killed four veterans on a parade float in Texas make it to trial, jurors should be able to consider whether actions by parade organizers and the hosting city contributed to the crash, a Union Pacific spokeswoman said Monday.

The company is asking that the City of Midland, Midland County and the parade organizer be designated as responsible third parties because they failed to exercise "ordinary care" in their actions relating to the Nov. 15 parade. Such a designation would allow the company to avoid being held solely responsible.

"Union Pacific does not seek to recover money from them," company spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza-Williams said. "We just want the jury in this to fully consider all of the entities whose actions may have contributed to the cause of the accident."

The veterans were riding on a flatbed truck that was hit by a train traveling 62 mph. The truck was the second float in a parade that was part of a weekend of hunting and shopping for veterans wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq and their wives.

Lawsuits filed in Dallas and Midland claim Union Pacific was negligent on several fronts, including failing to provide proper warning at the crossing where the accident occurred.

But in court motions filed earlier this month, the company argues that the city, county and parade organizer are responsible for the collision. It contends that none of the listed entities informed the railroad the parade would take place or sought to take steps to coordinate their plans with the company.

The documents also cite the organizer, Show of Support-Hunt for Heroes, for failing to obtain a parade permit and the city for failing to enforce its parade ordinance.

A phone message requesting comment from the parade’s organizer wasn’t returned Monday.

A spokeswoman for the city said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation. But earlier this month, the Midland City Council gave final approval to an ordinance making detailed changes to how parades are permitted. Under the new ordinance, which takes effect March 1, any parade that crosses railroad tracks must receive approval from the council.

Kevin Glasheen, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the Midland lawsuit, said Union Pacific’s action was anticipated.

"For the railroad, it’s a way to shift responsibly to other parties," Glasheen said.

In preliminary statements after the accident, National Transportation Safety Board officials said the crossing’s warning system was activated 20 seconds before the collision in accordance with federal regulations and that the guardrail began to descend seven seconds later.

Investigators have said the float began crossing the tracks even though warning bells were sounding and the crossing lights were flashing.

Midland County District Attorney Teresa Clingman announced Jan. 9 that a grand jury had declined to indict the driver, Dale Andrew Hayden.

The veterans killed in the collision were Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer, 37; Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34; and Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43.

The accident remains under investigation by the NTSB.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)