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Midland Veterans Train Tragedy Suit Regarding Truck Driver to go to Grand Jury

(January 3, 2013)

The case of a Midland, TX truck driver, operating a donated truck for his employer during an annual parade to honor wounded war veterans, and which was struck by a Union Pacific freight train at a signalized grade crossing, killing four veterans and injuring 16 other participants in the November 15, 2012 event, will be presented by the Midland County Prosecutor’s Office to the Midland County Grand Jury next week.

Midland County Assistant District Attorney Eric Kalenak said that “I am just presenting the case” to the jury, which will be impaneled Wednesday, January 9 by State District Judge Robin Darr, and will likely take the case as its first for consideration. Actions the Grand Jury could take include taking action on any criminal charges it might consider against the driver, Dale Andrew Hayden, 50, asking Kalenak to procure more information in regard to the case, or dismissing it without charges, as the Midland Police Dept. had done last month.

However, even though MPD chose against levying charges, the report the law enforcement body produced from their investigation into the tragedy, a report which Kalenek called “a very thorough investigation,” is what the Grand Jury will hear as they consider any action.

Two injured veterans and their wives have already filed suit against both the Union Pacific Railroad and Smith Industries of Midland, TX, which both owned the flatbed semi-trailer truck that was struck by the train as well as employed its driver, who was being treated by a physician for depression and other physical conditions related to the tragedy. The attorney team of Bob Pottroff of Manhattan, KS and Kevin Glasheen of Lubbock, TX are representing the original group of four in a suit filed in Midland County, while another law firm filed suit in Dallas County, TX last week on behalf of the widow of one of the deceased veterans.

In a continual submission of e-mails rather than voice contact with the news media, Union Pacific Spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza-Williams alleged that “The root cause of the accident is that the truck drove through an active signal system at the Garfield Street crossing, adding that UP conducted a safety course at Smith Industries in 2011, but was unsure as to whether or not Hayden, himself a U.S. Army veteran who has twice been deployed to the Middle East, attended the course.

TXDOT official Darin Kosmack had earlier released records of the agreement between UPRR and the State, details which had specified a 30-second sequence between activation of the Garfield Street signals and arrival of a train at the crossing, but investigations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed only a 20-second sequence. Last week, Union Pacific signal crews were at the crossing to “improve the buffer time” of the system to more accurately comply with the TXDOT agreement’s requirement.