Lawsuit filed in fatal derailment
BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK, TODD SHIELDS AND TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters July 6, 2012 10:40AM
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: August 8, 2012 6:09AM
A train horrifically 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 that the cars tumbled off the tracks and a railroad bridge over Shermer Road collapsed. No one was hurt amid the heaps of metal, concrete and coal clogging the underpass, the railroad announced.
All the same, LaMonica said Friday, he called Burt Lindner on Thursday morning, an hour after the attorney usually have have shown up at 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.”
Hours later, LaMonica learned that his friend and his wife had been killed in the 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 28 Union Pacific train cars jumped their tracks near Willow Road on Wednesday afternoon, crushing the couple’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, an attorney, said of his mentor and first boss. “He was such an easygoing, 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 require the rail company to preserve all evidence.
Judge William Maddux signed the order stopping the cleanup until 11 p.m. Saturday. By the time he did, temporary tracks already had been laid and the viaduct over Shermer Road already had been filled in with gravel.
“Union Pacific has already created a makeshift bridge and already has trains going over this spot,” LaMonica said Friday. “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.
The lawsuit claims Union Pacific was negligent, failed to properly build and repair its tracks near the viaduct and failed to take notice of “dangerous and unsafe operating conditions.”
The suit also alleges that 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 of the extreme heat on the rails.
Union Pacific officials said the train derailed before the viaduct collapsed. The massive weight of the cars piling up 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, they said.
“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 had 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 no one. And it was the same bridge that was closed for three months just last year while it was reinforced.
Union Pacific spokesman Thomas Lange said that there were no significant defects found in the structure in its last inspection in April.
Officials from Glenview and Northbrook issued a statement Friday afternoon saying the Federal Railroad Administration has ruled the temporary bridge built by Union Pacific to be “structurally sound,” and they predicted a permanent viaduct would be finished in two months.
The communities also asked representatives of the railroad to appear at a community meeting in Glenview on July 16 to discuss the accident.
Meanwhile Friday, the attorneys begged privacy for the Lindner family to grieve 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.