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Four sue over deadly Texas train collision with veterans parade

By Matthew Waller

SAN ANGELO, Texas (Reuters) - Two military veterans and their wives who were riding on a parade float struck by a freight train this month in West Texas filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Union Pacific railroad and the company that provided the flatbed trailer used as a float.

The suit, which appears to be the first since the November 15 crash that killed four veterans, was filed in Midland County District Court by Richard Sanchez, Heather Sanchez, Todd King and Laci King. The parade in Midland, Texas, was part of planned events saluting U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The lawsuit says that Union Pacific, the operator of the train, failed to provide a safe railroad crossing or a proper warning of an approaching train. It also says that the truck driver employed by Smith Industries, who drove the truck pulling the float, failed to exercise reasonable care for his passengers.

It seeks to prevent Union Pacific and Smith Industries from altering equipment related to the crash and would allow representatives of those suing to examine the equipment.

Richard Sanchez, an Army sergeant, pushed his wife to safety and sustained a spinal cord fracture that has left him with no feeling or movement in his legs, Kevin Glasheen, a lawyer for Sanchez, said earlier this month. The lawsuit says that all four plaintiffs suffered, though Glasheen said Wednesday that the others do not have life-changing injuries like Sanchez.

"While we cannot comment on the lawsuit specifically, the timeline of events outlined by the (National Transportation Safety Board's) investigation shows the truck proceeded onto the tracks eight seconds after the red flashing lights and bells activated," Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said in an email. "Disregarding active warning signals is extremely dangerous and we urge drivers to stop once the red flashing lights and bells activate. We will continue to work with federal, state and local authorities investigating this unfortunate accident."

An employee with Smith Industries said Wednesday that the oilfield equipment company did not have any comment.

The National Transportation Safety Board finished its on-scene investigations on Tuesday, and a preliminary report could be available in the coming weeks, agency spokesman Peter Knudson said.

Police have identified the dead as Marine Chief Warrant Officer Gary Stouffer, 37; Army Sergeant Major Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sergeant Major William Lubbers, 43; and Army Sergeant Joshua Michael, 34.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)

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