Metra, UP sued over Wheaton crash

  • A ballast regulator and a Honda Accord collided July 29 at the Washington Street railroad crossing in Wheaton. The driver of the car is suing Union Pacific Railroad, Metra and the regulator's operator, contending she had the right of way, that the crossing's gates and warning signals were malfunctioning, and that the operator was driving too fast.

    A ballast regulator and a Honda Accord collided July 29 at the Washington Street railroad crossing in Wheaton. The driver of the car is suing Union Pacific Railroad, Metra and the regulator's operator, contending she had the right of way, that the crossing's gates and warning signals were malfunctioning, and that the operator was driving too fast. Courtesy of Cavanagh Law Group

  • Marina Maestas

    Marina Maestas courtesy of the Cavanagh Law Group

 
 
Updated 8/13/2020 4:08 PM

A woman is suing Metra, the Union Pacific Railroad and a railway worker after a maintenance vehicle struck her car at a rail crossing in Wheaton.

The crash between a ballast regulator and Marina Maestas' Honda Accord left the 63-year-old woman with severe head and internal injuries, according to her attorney.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The suit alleges Maestas had the right of way. Traffic had stopped at the Washington Street crossing at 10:18 a.m. July 29, with the crossing gates down and warning signals flashing, while a railroad pickup truck drove along the tracks. After it passed, the gates rose and the signals abated, and Maestas began crossing, the suit said. The ballast regulator hit the driver's side of her car.

Her attorneys said, in a news release, that Maestas suffered head and internal injuries requiring several surgeries, and remains in critical condition in an intensive-care unit at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

The suit alleges Metra and UP should have known the gates and warning lights were faulty and posted a flagman at the crossing to regulate traffic and warn people the gates and lights weren't working properly

It also alleges the regulator's driver, Eric Johnsen, was driving unreasonably fast and failed to sound a whistle or horn in sufficient time as he approached the crossing.

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"Discovery in the lawsuit will focus on whether the malfunction was caused by human error and why required safety procedures were not followed. This crash would have been avoided had the Union Pacific operator of the ballast regulator been paying attention and not speeding. In addition, UP should have placed flag men at both sides of the crossing to stop cars while the ballast regulator passed," Cavanagh Law Group founding partner Tim Cavanagh said, in the news release.

A ballast regulator shapes the crushed stone of the railroad bed, removing stone from the tracks and ensuring it is arranged in a proper grade for drainage. They can also clear snow.

The suit does not say what brand and model the regulator was. A check of several manufacturers' websites show machines ranging from 40,000 to 60,000 pounds, that can go more than 40 mph.

The suit was filed Aug. 5 in Cook County circuit court.

"We have received the complaint and are currently reviewing it," said Kristen South, a spokesman for UP.

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