Victims' family sues Union Pacific in bridge collapse
Glenview couple identified as pair killed in bridge collapse
Crews Friday stopped cleaning up the wreckage of a Union Pacific coal train that derailed Wednesday afternoon in Glenview, killing a local couple, after the victims' family filed a lawsuit and a Cook County judge issued an order allowing the family's investigators to examine the site.
Attorney Burton Lindner, 69, and his wife, Zorine Lindner, 70, who lived about a block from the derailment site, were killed when the railroad bridge over Shermer Road in Glenview collapsed, crushing their car.
Robert Lindner, a personal injury attorney who was in practice with his dad, filed a wrongful death complaint Friday against Union Pacific Railroad Co. through the Chicago law firm of Fisher and LaMonica, alleging carelessness and negligence on the railroad's part. The complaint seeks more than $50,000 in damages per victim.
Circuit Court Judge William Maddux issued an order of protection Friday allowing attorneys for the Lindner family to have their own experts inspect the crash site.
Emergency crews are allowed to continue their search for victims and cars that may be buried under the debris, but it's not believed that any other vehicles are there.
Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said the railroad is complying with the court order. "Cleanup is halted," he said.
Lange declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the railroad company's attorneys haven't yet reviewed it.
Attorneys Michael LaMonica and Erron Fisher, whose law firm shares office space with the Lindners' practice, held a news conference near the site of the derailment Friday afternoon.
"The family is completely shocked something like this could happen," LaMonica said. "We're here today to get some answers. We refuse to accept the answer that it was hot outside."
Both attorneys chided Union Pacific for spending more effort getting the rail line running again than investigating what went wrong in the first place. They said much of the evidence had been compromised by Union Pacific's track restoration work.
"This scene is totally destroyed," Fisher said. "Their trains are up and running."
Lange disputed that. He said cleanup crews were careful while clearing the accident site.
"We took all the appropriate steps to preserve all the evidence from the incident," he said. Trains are being rerouted around the site on other rail lines until temporary repairs are completed, he said.
At the time of the derailment about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Lindners' vehicle was traveling south on Shermer. It wasn't until 10 a.m. Thursday that Union Pacific crews had cleared enough debris to discover part of the crushed vehicle, which was found in the middle of the overpass.
Autopsy results released Friday afternoon confirmed the Lindners died of multiple injuries caused by the bridge collapse, a spokeswoman for the Cook County medical examiner's office said.
LaMonica said he'd known that the highly publicized collapse was near the home of his friend and former mentor, but he didn't think there could be any connection because initial reports stated that no one had been injured.
It wasn't until Burton Lindner failed to arrive for work Thursday that LaMonica began to get worried. "I thought he'd make fun of me for even calling to check on him," LaMonica said.
According to Burton Lindner's biography on his law firm's website, he began practicing law in 1970, started his own firm in 1975 and was joined by his son in 1994.
He traveled extensively, especially in Asia, and served on the Korean American Community Services Board and as director of the American Asian Amity Association, among other civic organizations.
LaMonica said the couple were very involved with charity work, and he remembered their excitement about going to New Orleans to help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The website said Burton Lindner enjoyed spending time with his family, especially his four grandchildren.
LaMonica said the family requested that their privacy be respected as they made preparations for the couple's services and burial in Deerfield Sunday.
The family and their attorneys are hoping an investigation independent of Union Pacific will determine what may have caused the train, which included three locomotives and 138 cars, to derail. The train was traveling from Wyoming to an electricity plant in Wisconsin.
The railroad's preliminary investigation indicated heat caused the rails to expand and warp, causing the derailment, Lange said, adding that in extreme heat tracks are inspected a couple of times a week, and that UP's inspections were "up-to-date."
A total of 31 fully loaded coal cars went off the tracks, leaving mounds of debris; 28 of those cars had piled up on top of the 86-foot-long bridge, causing it to collapse, Lange said.
The bridge, owned and maintained by the railroad, was originally built in 1912 but was strengthened in 2011, Lange said.
"We inspect the bridge twice a year," he said. "It was last inspected April 4 of this year. There were no significant defects found on the structure. We follow all the federal guidelines on bridge and track inspections. They are not available for public (review). They are submitted to the FRA."
Federal Railroad Administration investigators were on the scene within an hour of the derailment, spokesman Michael England said.
While not every train wreck would trigger an investigation by the agency, "something of this size and scope most certainly (would)," he said.
"We are looking into all possible causes," he said. "There really is no typical investigation because each accident is unique. They could range anywhere from three to 12 months."
Contrary to earlier information released by Union Pacific that each coal car weighed on average between 75 and 85 tons, the actual weight of the cars with the coal load was roughly 140 tons, Lange clarified Friday.
"The normal track speed there is a maximum of 50 miles per hour," Lange said. "Because of the heat we had reduced it to 40 miles per hour. The data recorder on the train showed that it was traveling at 37 miles per hour."
England said while railroads are responsible for inspecting their own bridges, they are subject to random spot-checks by the agency's investigators. The FRA does inspect train tracks, and England said the track was last inspected by the FRA on Jan. 3. No defects were found. England would not speculate on whether excessive heat may have caused the derailment.
Shermer Road won't reopen until the bridge is replaced, which could take months. In the meantime, once the court allows it, the rail bed will be reconstructed with gravel to allow trains to run until the bridge is replaced, Lange said.
"We are working with the local communities to develop a long-term detour plan," he said.
A temporary bridge erected by Union Pacific after the July 4 derailment was determined to be structurally sound by an FRA representative, according to a joint statement released Friday night by the villages of Glenview and Northbrook.
This isn't the first time a train has derailed at the bridge.
In November 2009, two Canadian Pacific Railroad freight trains collided there, toppling 18 cars, including one that fell onto Shermer Road. An FRA investigation found an equipment malfunction caused an eastbound Canadian Pacific train to derail and subsequently sideswipe another Canadian Pacific train that was stationary.
At the time, officials said the accident could have been much worse because one of the trains was carrying hazardous materials. As it was, tons of grain spilled onto the tracks and embankment, closing Shermer Road for more than a day.
Another derailment occurred at the viaduct in 1974, officials said.
Glenview and Northbrook officials have asked Union Pacific representatives to attend a community meeting in Glenview on July 16 to discuss "the circumstances of the derailment, the safety history of the viaduct and to provide detailed information and schedules regarding construction of the replacement viaduct," according to the joint statement.
• Daily Herald transportation writer Marni Pyke and staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.