Wife of truck driver killed in Missouri Amtrak train crash files wrongful death lawsuit

Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com
·3 min read

The wife of the dump truck driver killed Monday is suing the rural Missouri county where the Amtrak train crash happened and a railroad official for wrongful death.

Billy Barton II, 54, of Brookfield, was killed when the train collided with his truck in Mendon, about 115 miles northeast of Kansas City.

His wife, Erin Barton, filed the lawsuit against Chariton County and Mariano Rodriguez, a BNSF roadmaster who managed the train tracks which are owned by BNSF Railway.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Chariton County Circuit Court, accuses Rodriguez and the county of negligence.

The Chariton County Commission did not respond to a request for comment. An attorney for Rodriguez was not listed in court records.

The crossing where the collision happened — known as Porche crossing — had impaired visibility and did not allow drivers approaching it to see an oncoming train, the lawsuit said. The area also allegedly had brush, trees and vegetation that blocked the view.

On Wednesday, The Star reported that one month before the crash, the county commission had alerted the state that overgrown brush was obstructing drivers’ views.

The intersection did not have lights, bells or arms to warn drivers of an approaching train, a recommendation the National Transportation Board has encouraged since 1998.

The lawsuit alleges Rodriguez “either knew or should have known that the Porche crossing posed a grave danger to the public due to the geometry of the crossing,” according to the petition.

It also says Chariton County is responsible for inspecting, repairing and maintaining the roads, which includes the approach to Porche crossing.

The crash was reported at about 12:43 p.m. Monday, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

A minute before, Barton was attempting to drive through the crossing but did not see or hear the train, the lawsuit said.

The Amtrak train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago and carrying approximately 275 passengers and 12 crew members.

About 150 people were injured.

The three passengers on the train who died were identified as Rachelle Cook, 58, and Kim Holsapple, 56, both of De Soto, Kansas; and Binh Pham, 82, of Kansas City. Cook and Holsapple were declared dead at the scene, the highway patrol said. Pham was pronounced dead Tuesday at a hospital in Columbia.

Some of the passengers were taken to Northwestern High School in Mendon after the crash. Several there told The Star of a harrowing experience as they expressed gratitude for the response of emergency medical workers and thanks to escape with their lives.

The NTSB is investigating the crash. Chair Jennifer Homendy said Wednesday that the train was traveling at 87 mph when it struck a dump truck at the railroad crossing. The speed limit was 90 mph.

Investigators were examining the slope of the incline at the intersection, among other factors, though they had ruled out mechanical issues.

On Thursday, injured passengers and Pham’s family took the first steps in filing a lawsuit.

Erin Barton is asking for in excess of $25,000 in damages.