A second lawsuit was filed Friday in connection with a train wreck that killed four parade float riders last month in Midland, Texas.
This lawsuit, like the first suit, claims Union Pacific Railroad Inc. and Smith Industries Inc., which owned the float, were negligent and caused the death of 37-year-old Marine Chief Warrant Officer Gary Stouffer, Jr.
The 17-year veteran’s widow, Catherine Stouffer, sued the Railroad and the float owners, and is seeking unspecified damages.
Also named as plaintiffs in the suit are the couple’s children, Shannon, 17 and Shane, 12; and Ada and Gary Stouffer, Sr., the parents of Gary Stouffer, Jr.
While in Afghanistan, Gary Stouffer, Jr. was in a vehicle struck by an improvised explosive device, the lawsuit states, and suffered fractures to his neck and spine, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was among two dozen injured war veterans who, along with their wives, were in Midland in November to participate in the Hunt for Heroes, an annual event that includes a parade and traditional West Texas hunts, put on by Midland-based nonprofit Show of Support.
On November 15th, the Stouffers and eleven other couples were sitting in chairs in a parade float set up on the back of a Smith Industries Inc. flatbed tractor-trailer, decorated with American flags and signs identifying each veteran. A banner across the truck’s front bumper read, “Heroes on Board.” They were headed toward a banquet in their honor in Midland, Texas.
As the truck crossed the railroad tracks, a passenger noticed that a train was quickly approaching. In the panic, many jumped off the trailer. The float was one of two flatbed trucks carrying veterans and their spouses. Although the first truck safely crossed the railroad tracks, the second truck’s trailer was hit by an eastbound train, which was traveling at 62 miles per hour.
“Gary ensured that Catherine got out of the way and then apparently remained on the trailer bed to assist others,” the lawsuit states. “The aftermath was like a war zone.”
Gary Stouffer, Jr. was pronounced dead at the scene; his wife was injured after jumping off of the trailer and was hospitalized. Also killed in the crash were Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34; Army Sgt. William Lubbers, 43; and Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47. Sixteen other people were injured.
The Dallas Morning News had reported that a Texas Department of Transportation official said the crossing was designed for trains that only went up to 25 miles per hour, but trains now travel on that line at up to 70 miles per hour. According to the Texas Department of Transportation official, the state expected the Railroad to upgrade its safety mechanism to match the greater speeds, but had not verified whether changes were made.
“From where Catherine laid, following the wreck, she could see one veteran whose body had been cut in half,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claims negligence and recklessness on the part of Union Pacific Railroad Inc. and Smith Industries Inc., the company that owned the truck, led to the collision.
The suit alleges Union Pacific was negligent in several ways, ranging from failing to give proper warning of an oncoming train to provide a safe crossing and failing to issue an order to slow railway traffic approaching the crossing. According to the suit, the crossing gates came down after the float had entered the crossing, striking several people on the float.
The petition claims that both Union Pacific Railroad Inc. and Smith Industries Inc. were negligent in the death of Stouffer, who was able to safely return to his family after tours of duty in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Tragically, it was a grossly unsafe railroad crossing that took this hero’s life and robbed the Stouffer family of the husband and father they thought was now safe,” the lawsuit states.
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