Midland Train Wreck Trial Kicks Off With "Challenging" Jury Selection

Midland Train Wreck Trial Kicks Off With "Challenging" Jury Selection

By: Julia Deng
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - The trial involving Union Pacific and 17 plaintiffs from Midland's deadly parade train crash of 2012 began Monday with jury selection, following a nine-month delay.

"I don't think there's a perfect way to [choose appropriate jurors]," Camden Chancellor, an Odessa attorney previously involved in the civil lawsuit, said. "You can't remove prejudice completely [and] you can't remove bias completely but that's why we have a jury of our peers. They're supposed have influences [and] experiences that are similar to our own."

The case is now being heard by a visiting Ector County judge in Midland County, where the accident occurred.

Plaintiffs had unsuccessfully argued to have the trial take place in Dallas while defendants pushed to keep it in Midland, delaying trial proceedings by more than nine months.

The trial was initially scheduled to begin April 21, 2014; the lawsuit was filed in November 2012.

Chancellor said choosing unbiased jurors was a unique challenge in a county "so deeply affected" by the train accident.

"It's a very impactful event for this community," he told NewsWest 9. "All of these victims were decorated veterans, many of which had been wounded multiple times. They were here with a non-profit that services the veteran community. Their families have been affected [as well as] many of the people who were on the float. They were Midland county residents, spouses, children."

Chancellor predicted jury selection would conclude Tuesday morning, allowing trial proceedings to move forward as scheduled.

The trial is expected to last five to six weeks.

There are currently 17 plaintiffs - down from an original total of 43 - suing Union Pacific for their alleged role in the deadly crash.

"We did settle with some of the parties prior to today's proceedings," Union Pacific spokesman, Jeff DeGraff, said.

Attorneys for the remaining plaintiffs will argue Union Pacific did not "properly maintain" the railroad crossing where four veterans were killed and another 14 were injured.

Union Pacific's attorneys maintain they were not at fault in the November 2012 accident and said they "followed all federal regulations" in operating the train crossing at the site of the wreck.

Union Pacific filed cross claims against multiple third parties they claim are responsible for the crash, including the City of Midland, Midland County, drivers of the parade float and Show of Support, the organizers of the annual event.

Those parties could not comment on the ongoing trial.