Mt. Vernon Register-News

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June 22, 2013

Railroad wins 9-year-old lawsuit

MT. VERNON — Union Pacific Railroad has been found faultless in a car-train accident occurring nearly nine years ago in Jefferson County.According to court documents, a seven day trial ended on June 10 when a jury ruled in favor of the railroad. The jury deliberated for one hour, 20 minutes before rendering its decision. Twenty-six witnesses testified during the weeklong trial.Heather King, who lived within 100 feet of the tracks near Bakerville, was seriously injured when she was struck by a train on Nov. 11, 2004. King and her then husband, Conan King, demanded a trial by jury when they filed a complaint in November 2006. Conan King was dismissed as a party plaintiff on June 12, court records revealed.An amended complaint was filed in February 2007, in which the Kings alleged the railroad, through its employees, were negligent in that it (a) failed to adequately warn motorists of the train's approach by sounding a whistle or bell; (b) failed to operate the train in a manner that was reasonably safe under the circumstances existing at the time of collision; (c) failed to keep a proper lookout for approaching motorists; (d) entreated onto the public roadway of East Webber Road at a time when it was reasonably safe to do so; and (e) failed to make measures available to avoid the collision.The six-count complaint asked for a judgment in excess of $50,000 against the railroad, and $50,000 judgments each against engineer John Krutsinger and conductor Paul E. Vogel. Conan King had sought a judgment in excess of $50,000 for medical expenses related to the care of his then wife, property damage, and future mental anguish and emotional stress against the railroad, Krutsinger and Vogel.Court records indicate the train was southbound, traveling at a speed of 50 mph or greater, and King was westbound on East Webber Road. The tracks have no automated warning devices, but marked by cross buck signs. Court documents also indicated weather may have played a role in the accident since there was heavy rain and haze.Court records indicate when King's Kia Sportage was struck by the train, she was ejected from the vehicle. Due to her severe injuries, including a skull fracture, King has no recollection of the accident.According to court documents, measurements showed the train came to a complete stop 2,854 feet south of the south edge of the crossing where the accident occurred. Train operators said the the lights were on and the horn sounded before entering the intersection.According to a statement submitted to the court from reconstructionist Dave Bower, "This crash could have been avoided if King had stopped at the cross buck sign, turned the radio down and looked and listened for approaching trains." Evidence presented documented the radio in King's vehicle was turned up loudly, and was still working when first responders arrived at the scene.King was represented by the firm of Burge and Burge in Birmingham, Ala., and Jerome McDonald of Mt. Vernon. The railroad was represented by attorney Tom E. Jones of Belleville and Andy Wolkiewicz, according to court records.Judge Mark Stanley of Carmi presided over the trial proceedings, taking over the case in June 2009 after several judges recused themselves from the case.

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