Houston News & Search
Photo: Gerald Herbert, AP
A Houston lawyer is filing lawsuits in Harris County seeking $250 million in damages on behalf of 15 passengers aboard a charter bus hit by a freight train in Mississippi earlier this month.
The suits, filed separately, name a slew of defendants, including the Harris County-based holding company TBL Group.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement. “This type of thing happens far too often across the United States.”
The March 7 crash in Biloxi killed four people from a senior citizens’ group in Bastrop near Austin. Dozens were injured, including the plaintiff in the lead case, Mary Hall.
When the bus driver decided to detour and take a “scenic route” that afternoon, the motor coach got stuck on a railroad crossing with an approaching train drawing near.
“Rather than immediately get the passengers off the bus, the drive instead continued to attempt to move his bus,” the suit alleges. “Conversely, rather than begin slowing and stopping the train, the train conductor instead continued to travel toward the crossing, eventually striking the bus.”
The train was traveling 26 mph – nearly 20 mph under the speed limit – when the two-man crew yanked the emergency brake 510 feet before hitting the bus, according to Associated Press reports at the time. The train was traveling just under 20 mph when it crashed into the bus, mangling the coach and pushing it 200 feet down the tracks.
Afterward, it took more than an hour to clear everyone from the wreckage.
The site of the wreck has a long history of accidents, including at least 17 wrecks involving vehicles and trains since 1976. The National Transportation Safety Board said the crossing features a hump that has caused tractor-trailers to bottom out. The federal agency investigated the recent crash and is expected to issue a report.
So far, Buzbee has filed two suits, and he has plans to file additional cases. A Dallas-based charter bus rental company, a Florida-based tour company, the bus manufacturer in Minnesota and railroad company CSX are all among the named defendants.
CSX declined to comment. None of the other defendants responded to the Chronicle’s request for comment.
The suits claim everything from gross negligence to negligent hiring to product liability, targeting the bus companies’ hiring and training practices, the tour company’s bus service vetting, the train crew’s failure to stop, the bus design and the train crossing safety.
The cases will “shed an intense light on CSX and the others who cause this,” Buzbee said, adding that the railroad company knew the crossing needed work.
“We also believe the CSX conductor had more than adequate distance to stop when he became aware that the bus was stuck at the crossing,” Buzbee’s statement said. “Our hope is that through these efforts, we can do something here such that this type of thing never happens again.”
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