Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Spokane

Family plans to sue over rail crossing
Spokane Valley guard didn't lower before fatal crash, witnesses say

Kevin Blocker
Staff writer

photo
File - The Spokesman-Review
A Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway worker checks the operation of a railroad crossing guard at Trent and Pines on July 23, two days after Joseph Binder and Brandon Brown were killed in a car-train accident there.

Correction (Aug. 29, 2001): An Amtrak spokesman in Chicago said he has not talked to investigators in Spokane about a train fatality at the intesection of Trent and Pines last month. This story said otherwise. The spokesman said he doesn't have any information about the case.

The family of a man killed in a car-train accident in the Spokane Valley is planning a lawsuit alleging that a railroad crossing guard failed to lower properly.

Two eyewitnesses have given sworn affidavits to attorney David Miller claiming that Joseph R. Binder and Brandon C. Brown did not appear to be racing the train to the crossing at Trent and Pines on July 21 as investigators have speculated.

The witnesses said the crossing guard was not lowered to prevent the two men from attempting to cross the tracks.

Binder's family asked Miller to investigate potential negligence on the part of railroad officials.

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, which maintains the tra
cks, examined the crossing-guard equipment after the crash, said railroad spokesman Gus Melonas of Seattle.

"Subsequent tests showed that the equipment at that intersection was working correctly," Melonas said.

Binder, 19, of Newman Lake, and Brown, 21, of Spokane, were westbound on Trent and turned south on Pines across the tracks. They were killed when the two-door 1994 Toyota Celica that Binder was driving was crushed by an Amtrak passenger train.

Neither man was wearing a seat belt, and both died of massive head injuries, the Washington State Patrol said.

WSP officials are trying to determine if alcohol was involved in the crash. They said they anticipate completing their investigation next month.

Miller said the men had attended a party, but eyewitnesses haven't been able to confirm if they may have been intoxicated.

The railroad crossing on Pines has warning gates and flashing lights. BNSF and Union Pacific rail lines run parallel to Trent Road through the Spokane Valley.

Stacy Jones and Lisa Janatsch, who were in a car behind the one Binder and Brown were in, said in a sworn affidavit that the gates never came down.

Jones said she saw only the red crossing lights flashing. Jones also claimed a Burlington Northern official who arrived at the scene said the train had been traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone for trains, according to the affidavit.

But Kevin Johnson, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago, said he has been told investigators in Spokane have concluded the passenger train was not exceeding the speed limit as it approached the intersection.

Relatives of Binder's have referred all inquiries to Miller. Attempts to reach Brown's family were unsuccessful.

Binder went to Whitworth College after high school; Brown was attending summer classes at Spokane Falls Community College.

Janatsch and Jones gave sworn statements to Miller three days after the crash, according to records provided by the attorney.

They said they were returning from Fuzzy's tavern and stopped at a red light at Trent and Pines while westbound around 1:30 a.m.

"It was the only car on the road, so I think that's why I was paying attention to it," Jones told Miller.

"There were no brake lights (from the Celica). ... We just sat there with our mouths hanging open," Janatsch said.

Miller said he may file a lawsuit next month.

Kevin Blocker can be reached at (509) 459-5513 or by e-mail at kevinb@spokesman.com.


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