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Family files suit on behalf of woman who was thrown out of window, killed when Metra train hit truck in Clarendon Hills

Family of woman killed while riding Metra files wrongful death lawsuit
Family of woman killed while riding Metra files wrongful death lawsuit 00:27

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday on behalf a woman who died after being ejected from a Metra train that hit a truck in Clarendon Hills last month.

The family of 72-year-old Christina Lopez filed the lawsuit against Metra, BNSF Railway Company, Del's Moving, and moving truck driver Sabrija Cubic.

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Christina Lopez, 72, was killed when a Metra train she was riding hit a truck stopped on the tracks in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, on May 11, 2022. Supplied Photo

On the morning of Wednesday, May 11, Lopez was a passenger on Metra BNSF Line Train No. 1242 – which had been running express from the Downers Grove Fairview Avenue station and was bypassing Clarendon Hills, the lawsuit said. Lopez was seated toward back of the lead car in the Metra train, the lawsuit said.

A box truck belonging to Del's Moving was on the tracks at the Prospect Avenue crossing in Clarendon Hills. Cubic had exited the truck while it remained on the tracks, the lawsuit noted.

The speeding train was caught on video plowing into the moving truck. The video was taken by Tom Szurgot from a car waiting at the crossing. Bells are heard and red lights are flashing, but the truck is poised under a partially-lowered crossing gate.

Video: Metra train hits truck in Clarendon Hills 00:24

First, two people are seen getting out of the truck as the Metra train sounds its horn. Then, the Metra train plows right into the truck, also demolishing the crossing gate and taking down overhead wires. A cloud of black smoke emerges on the other side of the train, and the remains of the truck are revealed to be on fire after the train passes.

Lopez was ejected from the window of the train and died. CBS 2 reviewed video that appears to show her body strike a window - either dislodging or breaking it as the impact of the crash propels her out of the train.

The lawsuit – filed by the firm Kraloveck, Jambois & Schwartz – alleges negligence on the part of Metra, track owner BNSF Railway Company, Del's Moving & Storage, and Cubic.

Specifically, Metra is accused – among other things – of failing to recognize track hazards and slow speed at Prospect Avenue crossing and inform train operators about conditions there. Metra is also accused of failing to apply sufficient brake power at the crossing, and to apply emergency brakes after it became clear the truck was not heeding the warning signals.

The lawsuit also noted that the Prospect Avenue crossing had been under construction, and the Village of Clarendon Hills had warned of lane closures and traffic delays at the crossing. Metra should have known about uneven pavement and grave conditions, impeded vehicles, and other near-miss events at the Prospect Avenue crossing before the deadly accident, the lawsuit alleged.

Del's Moving and Cubic are accused of operating the moving truck without keeping a proper lookout and failing to yield right of way to the train.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Attorney Steve Jambois, representing Lopez's family, said in May that there had been multiple complaints filed with Clarendon Hills about that railroad crossing, but nothing was done.

"From everything I've heard, that was an accident waiting to happen; that the traffic, because of the construction at that intersection, was so slowed down that people were in harm's way quite frequently, and that this was something that was bound to happen, and was very preventable," he said.

Former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt also said the accident could have been prevented.

"Certainly, it's a tragic situation," Sumwalt, now a CBS News transportation safety analyst and executive director of the Center for Aviation and Aerospace Safety and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said in May. "But it's something that likely could have been prevented, had certain NTSB recommendations had been fulfilled by the Federal Railroad Administration."

The NTSB made one of those recommendations about eight years ago, when Sumwalt was an NTSB board member. The agency found some passengers on a Metro-North Railroad train that derailed in the Bronx died on Dec. 1, 2013 "as a result... of ejection through windows."

The NTSB recommended the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates railroad rules, should "develop a performance standard to ensure that windows are retained...during an accident."

The NTSB reiterated that request in 2015, when it found that some victims of an Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia likely would have lived if the windows stayed intact.

But at the time of the Clarendon Hills Metra accident, that request is still listed as open - and the FRA said they were still researching the issue.

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