By: Julia Deng
MIDLAND - The 6-man, 6-woman jury selected for the civil trial involving Union Pacific heard opening statements and witness testimony Wednesday.
Attorneys for the 17 plaintiffs suing Union Pacific in the negligence case told the court train crew members could have prevented the deadly crash on November 15, 2012 "had they been looking out for danger... and properly applied the emergency brakes."
They proceeded to describe the military honors, personal sacrifices and family lives of three wounded veterans who were killed in the accident: U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Gary Stouffer, U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers and U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Lawrence Boivin.
Stouffer's widow, Catherine, left the courtroom in tears as attorney Brent Walker told jurors about his deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Defense attorney John Proctor called the 2012 accident a "tragedy" in his opening argument, but maintained Union Pacific was not responsible for the "perfect storm" of factors that led to the crash at the train crossing.
Attorneys for the railroad blamed a number of third party entities for not doing their jobs properly: the city of Midland, for not posting a lookout at the crossing during the parade, as they had done in previous years; Show of Support, the charity organization behind the veterans parade, for not notifying Union Pacific of the parade, applying for a permit or formulating a written safety plan; Midland County Sheriff's deputies, who allegedly acted as "participants" in the parade rather than safety advocates looking out for danger, such as signs of an approaching train; the driver of the float, who neither stopped nor looked both ways at the crossing to check for a train; and others.
"There's going to be very strong views on the way that liability should fall in this case," said Camden Chancellor, an Odessa attorney previously involved in the case. "The defendants will certainly have their own opinions on who should ultimately be blamed... But for the plaintiffs' attorneys, it's about precision of what these attorneys have to ensure they're protecting, which is essentially the estates of all these decedents and their families; forever."