For years, the residents of a South Florida community tried to convince government officials and railroad authorities to fix the dilapidated railroad crossing on Southwest 137th Avenue in Miami. They wrote e-mails. They left voice messages. They sent paper correspondence.
Now, all of their complaints have been gathered as part of at least two lawsuits filed after the deaths of two young men and the serious injury of another who were involved in a crash at the site.
The sole survivor of the crash, the front seat passenger, would later tell police his friend was speeding, became momentarily distracted and then struck a bump on the railroad track before losing control of the car. The backseat passenger, just 17-years-old, was thrown from the back seat. He lived long enough for his single mother and two sisters to say their good-byes at the hospital.
Surveillance video later reviewed by Miami-Dade police showed the vehicle crashing overturning after knocking down a fence.
Now, the mother of decedent passenger has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the transportation company – CSX Transportation Inc. – which owned the tracks and is one of the nation’s largest railroad companies. Plaintiff is also weighing whether to add the state and county as defendants as well. The complaint asserts that the accident could have been avoided had the transportation company taken more decisive action back when the issue first became known.
A trail of emails among county and state officials and CSX representatives indicates the company on numerous occasions scheduled meetings to address resident concerns, and then would abruptly cancel at the last minute. There was delay after delay after delay.
Back in 2012, a rails program administrator with the state department of transportation sent an email to county traffic engineers and several others, describing this particular crossing and indicating it was in “horrible condition. ” CSX, which was obligated to take on the repairs, albeit at the county’s expense, responded that the company would “work up an estimate,” and pointed out that replacing the crossing services, paving and any additional roadway work was the “responsibility of the county.”
But nothing happened for a year. At that point, another email was sent to the company, requesting that it schedule the replacement surface “ASAP (as soon as possible).” It was also at this time the rails program administrator notified the firm of a complaint form she’d sent, which again underscored the “terrible condition” of the railroad crossing and opined that it “is going to cause a major accident.”
Later that month, almost exactly one year before the fatal crash that spurred this wrongful death lawsuit, the administrator informed the company of a number of resident complaints, including one that had watched a small vehicle go airborne because of the sudden elevation caused by the road defect. Another complaint that was forwarded indicated there were vehicles “going airborne every second of the day.”
A nearby resident wrote to the county and stated that despite filing numerous complaints, nothing had been done to address the problem.
The company responded to each of these emails, but every time it had an appointment slated to inspect the site, it would cancel and reschedule.
Not until six weeks after this fatal accident did real action come on this issue. At that point, a school board employee wrote to the transportation director indicating “You have no idea the condition…” More than a month after the crash, work on this stretch of road was completed. At that point, a state worker emailed another, indicating, “Mission Accomplished!”
But of course, that mission was accomplished too late for decedent and his friends,” something plaintiff’s attorney calls, “inexcusable.”
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Deadly Crash Came After Years of Complaints About Rail Crossing, Nov. 10, 2015, By McNelly Torres and Willard Shephard, NBC Miami
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