Suit filed against railroads in cyclist's death

Metra, BNFS negligence cited as the cause

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BOB UPHUES

The family of Patricia Quane, a 52-year-old bicyclist killed by a Metra express train at the Longcommon Road crossing in Riverside on Aug. 23, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County this morning against both Metra and the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad.

The suit, which seeks cash damages in excess of $50,000, was filed by Quane's sister Lisa Douglas, and alleges that the negligence of both Metra and the BNSF was responsible for Quane's death.

"This is a clear cut case to me," said Kevin P. Durkin, an attorney for the Clifford Law Offices, which is representing the Quane family. "There was plenty of negligence on behalf of the railroad."

Quane, an Oak Park resident and speech pathologist for Oak Park Elementary School District 97, was an avid cyclist and president-elect of the Oak Park Cycle Club. Her death shocked family members, who described her as an advocate for and teacher of safe cycling.

The suit, based in good part on the eyewitness account of Riverside resident Bill Wilhelm, states that Quane ventured across the railroad tracks and into the path of the oncoming express train only after being motioned forward, along with commuters, by a Metra conductor. In addition, the suit alleges that the pedestrian gate on the southwest corner of the crossing, where Quane was standing with her bicycle, was raised at the time of the incident.

The suit also alleges that Metra employees disregarded the company's own safety rules by allowing the express train to pass the stopped commuter train at the station, and that the engineers of both trains failed to communicate with each other to prevent having both trains in the grade crossing at the same time.

Quane was killed by an eastbound Metra express train just before 8 a.m. on Aug. 23. The conditions at the grade crossing, through which three sets of tracks run, were unusual that morning.

Earlier that day, a freight train had derailed on the southern most set of tracks, and work crews were still attending to freight cars to the west of the grade crossing. Because of that work, the 7:48 a.m. commuter train that stopped at the Riverside crossing had to use the middle set of tracks, and passengers were forced to load at the grade crossing. For some reason, the train did not obstruct the entire crossing, leaving room at the east end of the intersection for someone to pass by.

According to Wilhelm, Quane was next to him on the southwest side of the crossing, where the pedestrian gate was raised. The suit alleges the gate was raised by Metra and/or BNSF employees. When the commuter train came to a stop in the crossing, Wilhelm stated that the conductor motioned commuters forward, Quane among them.

Quane then crossed in front of the stopped train and was struck by the express train. The suit states that Metra was negligent by not blocking the intersection completely and by not posting an employee at the head of the train to prevent anyone from trying to cross in front of it.

Riverside police interviewed several people, including Wilhelm and the engineer of the eastbound express train, in the wake of the incident. However, they have so far been unsuccessful in obtaining statements from the engineer of the stopped commuter train or the conductor who allegedly motioned commuters toward the train. Durkin said that those employees will be subpoenaed for their testimony.

"We're going to get everyone on that train," Durkin said, "and find out why that gate was up and why they didn't take precautions."

Metra spokesman Tom Miller declined to comment on the suit, saying that the company does not discuss matters in litigation.

The suit is the latest in a slew of lawsuits against Metra recently. Over 20 people have sued Metra since the Sept. 17 derailment of a Rock Island District Line train that killed two people, including a Brookfield Zoo employee, and injured many others.

 

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