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3 riders in O’Hare Blue Line crash sue; attorney questions station’s design

Updated: April 27, 2014 6:21AM

How safe is the design of the CTA’s O’Hare Blue Line station if a train was able to vault the tracks and climb an escalator at one of the busiest airports in the world?

That’s among the questions at least one attorney said he will be trying to answer as he pursues one of three negligence lawsuits filed Tuesday against the CTA involving Monday’s Blue Line crash.

Three women who worked at O’Hare filed suit after an eight-car CTA train hit the end of the O’Hare Blue Line at 2:50 a.m. Monday and kept on going — onto the platform and up an escalator. One worked at Hudson News, another as an airport security officer and a third at AirServ.

Meanwhile Tuesday, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board said an “automatic stop” activated before the train plowed up the escalator.

“Whether it did it in time or not — that’s an analysis we have to figure out,” said Ted Turpin, the NTSB investigator in charge of piecing together why the Blue Line train failed to stop early Monday, injuring 32 people.

A rail union official has said the driver who was operating the train may have nodded off just before the crash. She had worked a lot of overtime and said she was “extremely tired” at the time, said Robert Kelly, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308. She was to be interviewed by the NTSB on Tuesday.

Matthew Jenkins, an attorney with Corboy & Demetrio, said his client, security officer Dalila Jefferson, was in the lead car. Jefferson “catapulted forward” and was extricated by paramedics; she was treated at two hospitals for a broken foot, and neck and back injuries, Jenkins said.

Jenkins questioned why safety brakes and a “bumping post” at the end of the line didn’t stop the train from jumping out of the track bed and onto an escalator.

“It’s very possible that the construction of the station contributed to what happened,” Jenkins said. “There’s a bumping post. You’d like to think that would prevent the train from catapulting up the escalator that’s right in front of it. Having the escalator so close to the end of the tracks is a problem as well.’’

Jenkins said he will be investigating “every cause that contributed” to Monday’s crash.

“Millions of people ride that Blue Line every year to go to O’Hare, and they deserve to be safe,’’ Jenkins said. “We’re fortunate there weren’t more pedestrians in the area.’’

Jenkins and attorney Bridget Duignan, co-counsel for Hudson News worker Niakesha Thomas, said they will be filing protective orders to preserve all track and equipment maintenance records; disciplinary records of the train’s operator; and photos or videos taken by what investigators said Tuesday were 41 station cameras, plus cameras in each of the eight train cars and a front-facing camera on the front cab.

Duignan, an attorney with Latherow Law Office, said her client was in the third car and was thrown into the seat in front of her and then back into her own seat, injuring her hip.

One of four passengers pulled an emergency exit switch to open the train doors, and passengers hobbled out of the car, Duignan said. Thomas emerged “in shock” but managed to take a few photos of the crash scene, Duignan said.

A third suit was filed Wednesday by Lakesha Weaver, an employee for AirServ, which handles cargo, ground transportation and other services at O’Hare, said the woman’s attorney, Donald Jaburek. He said Weaver was hit in both knees; she had surgery on one knee a year and a half ago, Jaburek said.

At O’Hare on Tuesday, Turpin said the train was traveling at “25 or 26 mph” when it approached the station — the proper speed for that area.

With the O’Hare station out of commission, shuttle buses ferried travelers to and from the Rosemont station Tuesday morning.

That arrangement might continue for a while. Turpin said it could be a week before the train can be removed and the track is usable again. The train’s first car will likely have to be chopped up to remove it, Turpin said.

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