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Woman injured while handcuffed in police car when struck by train sues departments, officers

Handcuffed woman injured in police car struck by train sues police
Handcuffed woman injured in police car struck by train sues police 02:22

The woman who was handcuffed in the back of a police car when a train smashed into it filed a lawsuit Thursday against the police departments and officers that were involved. They've already been charged criminally, so now there's a civil suit on top of that.

Court documents filed by the woman's attorneys say the railroad tracks, crossing signs and an emergency notification sign were all "plainly visible" to all officers at the scene. They also allege officers did not read the woman her Miranda rights before interrogating her at the scene.

Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, 20, was pulled over by police in September and stopped her car just beyond some train tracks in Weld County. Platteville Police Sgt. Pablo Vazquez stopped his squad car on the tracks. She was initially pulled over because of a 911 call regarding alleged road rage involving a gun.

The entire incident was captured on officers' bodycams and dashcams.

"This is some of the most egregious abuse of law enforcement authority that I have ever seen - that most people have ever seen," Rios-Gonzalez's attorney Jonathan Stine told CBS News Colorado. "It's inexcusable neglect and it's a total violation of her rights."

Rios-Gonzalez was handcuffed and put in the back of Vazquez's car. Moments later, video shows a train smashing into the patrol car, causing it to roll over twice and landing about a half mile from where it was struck.

"Departments are tasked with putting these officers out there on the streets and putting people on the streets that are qualified," Stine said. "Needless to say that she is traumatized."

Rios-Gonzalez was seriously injured and hospitalized for weeks with broken ribs, a broken arm and other injuries.

Thursday, she filed a civil lawsuit against Vazquez, the Platteville Police Department, the Fort Lupton Police Department and its officers, Jordan Steinke and Ryan Thomeczek. Court records show the suit was filed Thursday.

The suit was filed in Weld County District Court.

Photos attached to the lawsuit documents show a "plainly visible" railroad crossing sign near the tracks, as well as a blue emergency notification system sign with a phone number that police could have called to notify Union Pacific Railroad if there was police activity on or near the tracks.


Officers at the scene "ignored, and/or failed to properly utilize the blue ENS sign and the information provided on it" and "failed to call the number on the blue ENS sign to alert Union Pacific Railroad that there was police activity on the railroad tracks," the lawsuit says.

The train first blew its horn at 7:53:49 p.m. and the officers at the scene heard and saw it coming according to the lawsuit. As it approached, the conductor blew the horn several more times and activated the brakes. At 7:54:09 p.m., 20 seconds after the first horn was sounded, it smashed into the patrol car at around 47 mph.

The train weighed 11,153 tons when it hit the patrol car, according to court documents. The weight of the car wasn't mentioned, but a typical Ford Explorer Police Interceptor model weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 tons, depending on features and equipment.

A graphic made by Colorado State Patrol as part of its investigation into the crash was included in the lawsuit showing what happened:

Colorado State Patrol

Rios-Gonzalez is being represented by The Paul Wilkinson Law Firm in Denver. Her attorneys are asking for a jury trial and for a judge to award Rios-Gonzalez any compensation and relief he finds to be "just and proper," as well as court and attorney fees.

In a notice of intent to file suit sent to the departments, Rios-Gonzalez's lawyers say damages had already exceeded $424,000 and with the alleged violation of her civil rights added, they estimated cumulative damages to be at least $5 million.

The incident is currently under investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Colorado State Patrol.

Vazquez has been charged in the criminal case with reckless endangerment, obstructing a highway or other passageway, careless driving and parking where prohibited. Steinke has been charged with criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

CBS News Colorado reached out to the city of Fort Lupton and town of Platteville for comment Thursday but did not immediately receive a response.

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