RAILWAY SUED OVER ‘MIND-BOGGLING’ NEGLECT IN LOCAL TEEN’S DEATH

A Naperville couple on Wednesday filed a negligence lawsuit against the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co., on the second anniversary of a railroad crossing collision in Aurora that took the lives of their 16-year-old son and another youth.

The Cook County Circuit Court lawsuit was filed in behalf of Muthuswamy and Gayatri Bharadwaj of Naperville. Their son, Krishna, a junior at Waubonsie Valley High School, died of injuries sustained in the April 11, 1999, crash.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages of the railway and its parent company, Transtar Inc. of Monroeville, Pa., said John Nisivaco, the couple’s attorney.

Also named as “individual direct defendants” are William Stringer and William Addison, the engineer and conductor, respectively, of the freight train that struck the car Krishna Bharadwaj was driving, Nisivaco said.

A judge will be asked to consolidate the lawsuit with a nearly identical one filed a little more than a year ago by attorney Timothy J. Cavanagh. He represents Westmont residents Murali and Mani Rao, whose son, Arvin, 16, also died of injuries sustained in the collision, Nisivaco said.

The youths that day were researching a school assignment at various local public libraries. Krishna Bharadwaj was driving his family’s 1998 Toyota Camry east on Oswego Road in Aurora as they left Eola Library.

Police reports said the car entered the Oswego Road railroad crossing between Long Grove and Frontenac roads as a northbound train approached. The crossing had no gates, although its warning lights were flashing and its alarm bells ringing at the time, police said.

Krishna Bharadwaj apparently did not see the lights or hear the bells, police said. The train struck the rear of the car, which became airborne before knocking down a streetlight pole and then rolling over, police said.

Both lawsuits allege railway officials could have prevented the youths’ deaths had they followed a May 1997 directive from the Illinois Department of Transportation. IDOT officials recommended gates be installed at the crossing because of motorist complaints of being unable to see oncoming trains.

Naperville resident Florence Dowdy first raised the safety issue in a letter to the Illinois Commerce Commission. An ICC staff member on April 3, 1997, inspected the crossing and affirmed Dowdy’s concerns, recommending to IDOT that gates be installed.

Railway officials “signed an agreement with IDOT to put up the gates in 1998,” at a cost of just over $150,000, Cavanagh said. They later said they could not do so without federal funding, which would not be made available until April 1999.

“The railroad is a multimillion dollar corporation that could have spent its own money” to erect the gates and later be reimbursed by the federal government, Cavanagh said. “It would’ve cost $150,000 to prevent this tragedy.”

Stringer and Addison have been named in both lawsuits because of “their failure to stop the train in enough time to prevent this occurrence,” Nisivaco said.

“This crossing involved a high volume of vehicular traffic” at the time of the collision, which occurred on a Sunday afternoon, Nisivaco said. “It certainly was an ultra-hazardous situation,” as Stringer and Addison should have recognized, he said.

“One of the remarkable facts of this case is that, within a day or days of this occurrence, (railway officials) miraculously finalized the process” that would lead to installation of the crossing gates, Nisivaco said. “It is mind-boggling to think that they would not act on the prior IDOT recommendation until after two boys were catastrophically injured and later died.”

Transtar Inc. officials could not be reached late Thursday for comment on the litigation. The Bharadwaj and Rao families through their attorneys also declined to comment.

Two white, wooden crosses were erected near the crossing in the youths’ memories shortly after the collision. Gayatri Bharadwaj in an October interview said her family visits the site on the 11th of each month.

The Bharadwaj and Rao families are from the same town in India, but did not become acquainted until after they had immigrated to the United States. Krishna Bharadwaj and Arvin Rao became fast friends after meeting at a picnic several months before their deaths.

Krishna Bharadwaj, who earned his driver’s license only eight days before the collision, was a member of the Waubonsie Valley High School tennis team and its chess and jazz clubs. His sister, Dipali, is a freshman there.

Cavanagh and Nisivaco and other Lawyers of Distinction said the lawsuits could take up to two years to come to trial.

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