New Mexico Family Sues Over Death of Man Hit by Train

February 19, 2009

The family of a Denver man hit by a train near Las Vegas, N.M., has sued, contending his line of sight was blocked and he could not see an approaching Amtrak train.

Fred Stark, who had come to Las Vegas for the wedding of his daughter, was killed last Sept. 11 as he crossed the tracks on the way to a city garbage transfer station.

Defendants in the lawsuit filed in state district court are Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Amtrak, Las Vegas, San Miguel County and Ride to Pride Partnership, which owns the land next to the crossing.

The lawsuit, which accuses Amtrak of gross negligence, seeks damages for wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

An Amtrak spokesman had no comment, saying Amtrak would handle the matter through legal channels. Other defendants also declined comment.

Another man, Michael Esquibel, was killed Jan. 15 at the same crossing, which has a railroad crossing sign, but no other controls. Community members have called for warning lights and other safety measures.

After Esquibel’s death, officials from the city, county, state Department of Transportation, Amtrak and BNSF said they were not responsible for the crossing.

The lawsuit alleges that because vegetation blocked Stark’s view, he did not see the train approaching at an “unreasonably” high rate of speed on the tracks, owned by BNSF. The lawsuit also contends the engineer failed to sound the horn and bell in time to warn Stark, and the crew failed to brake or otherwise slow the train to avoid a collision.

Stark’s daughter, Victoria Stark-Romero, witnessed the crash and rushed to help her father, only to find him decapitated, the lawsuit said.

The complaint alleges Ride to Pride allowed vegetation to obstruct the view of those crossing the tracks.

“We aren’t the cause. … Amtrak is going too fast through there,” said the organization’s executive director, Lorraine Esquibel, no relation to Michael Esquibel.

The lawsuit said it named Burlington Northern as a defendant because it did not improve crossing conditions, the city because it owns the transfer station and the county because it owns the road.

County Manager Les Montoya has said the road is not on the county’s log. The city does not respond to media inquiries about lawsuits. BNSF said it does not comment on pending litigation.

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