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Jury awards millions to victim of road-rail accident

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This aerial photograph shows the location where Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, died in a 2013 accident with a BNSF train. Knight was positioning his truck and trailer as he prepared to pick up a trackhoe being used to demolish the building on the northeast corner of the intersection when the accident happened. [PHOTOS PROVIDED]
This aerial photograph shows the location where Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, died in a 2013 accident with a BNSF train. Knight was positioning his truck and trailer as he prepared to pick up a trackhoe being used to demolish the building on the northeast corner of the intersection when the accident happened. [PHOTOS PROVIDED]

PAWNEE — A jury in a civil suit filed against BNSF Railway after a 2013 fatality accident in Lela, about seven miles west of Pawnee, handed down a $9 million verdict this month in the case.

The jury concluded the railroad bore most of the responsibility for the accident, which happened near a marked railroad crossing just off U.S. 64, awarding $6.3 million in compensatory damages to the estate of Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond.

While the jury found the railroad had recklessly disregarded safety involving a dangerous road-rail intersection, it chose not to add any punitive damages to the award.

The jury found the other defendant in the case, Morrison Grain, bore no responsibility for the accident, and reduced the verdict to $6.3 million to account for the responsibility it concluded Knight bore for the accident.

Attorneys representing Knight’s estate in the case argued the railroad repeatedly had been warned about limited sight distances at the crossing involved, just north of U.S. 64.

The crossing was not equipped with lights, bells or arms, but was marked with “crossbuck” (railroad crossing) signs.

The problem that caused this accident, the attorneys said, was an old railroad-owned building on the track’s north side, just east of where a north-south county line road crosses the tracks.

Indeed, attorneys argued the railroad knew a problem existed at the location, given that it decided about two years before the fatal accident the building, also located next to the tracks, needed to be demolished because it restricted the crossing's sightlines.

However, the railroad chose to require the company it leased the property to, Morrison Grain, to undertake that work through a provision included in the lease.

They also pointed out there had been at least eight prior train wrecks at the crossing where Knight died, including one after the railroad decided the building needed removed.

Additionally, attorneys argued the railroad circumvented its safety rules by requiring Morrison Grain to do the work, because it allowed the railroad to avoid placing an employee at the demolition site.

If the railroad had done the work and had an on-site construction manager, the railroad’s rules would have required operators of passing trains to communicate with that employee and to pass through the construction zone at reduced speeds.

The attorneys noted that Knight, ironically, was in the process of preparing to load a trackhoe that had been used to demolish the building when his vehicle was struck by the train.

According to an accident report filed with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission by BNSF, a train was traveling west on the track at 44 miles per hour when it struck Knight’s vehicle, which was positioned across the track near the north-south road-rail intersection on May 8, 2013.

The railroad’s investigation concluded Knight didn’t stop his vehicle before beginning to cross the tracks, but attorneys argued his attention had been focused on getting his vehicle and low-boy trailer properly positioned to load the trackhoe.

“This case was always about making the community safer,” Grant L. Davis, attorney for the family, stated in a news release released Friday that announced the verdict and its amount. “BNSF Railway Company chose profits over safety and allowed a dangerous condition to exist for years, which caused numerous train wrecks."

Davis tried the case on behalf of Knight’s family with partners Thomas C. Jones, Timothy C. Gaarder and John Caroll, all with the firm of Davis Bethune and Jones of Kansas City, Missouri.

Lawyers representing the railroad were Cary Hiltgen and Lance Cook at Hiltgen Brewer Law Firm in Oklahoma City.

A railroad spokesman on Friday declined to comment about the verdict or whether the railroad will appeal.

Related Photos
<strong>This photograph shows the vehicle Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, was operating, after it had been hit by a BNSF train near a crossing in Lela, west of Pawnee.</strong>

This photograph shows the vehicle Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, was operating, after it had been hit by a BNSF train near a crossing in Lela, west of Pawnee.

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e62f7547da8b5d45b7a26a6b3bbb5a8b.jpg" alt="Photo - This photograph shows the vehicle Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, was operating, after it had been hit by a BNSF train near a crossing in Lela, west of Pawnee. " title=" This photograph shows the vehicle Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, was operating, after it had been hit by a BNSF train near a crossing in Lela, west of Pawnee. "><figcaption> This photograph shows the vehicle Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, was operating, after it had been hit by a BNSF train near a crossing in Lela, west of Pawnee. </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7adee875bd4dd86b1751ee920113a9f6.jpg" alt="Photo - This aerial photograph shows the location where Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, died in a 2013 accident with a BNSF train. Knight was positioning his truck and trailer as he prepared to pick up a trackhoe being used to demolish the building on the northeast corner of the intersection when the accident happened. [PHOTOS PROVIDED] " title=" This aerial photograph shows the location where Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, died in a 2013 accident with a BNSF train. Knight was positioning his truck and trailer as he prepared to pick up a trackhoe being used to demolish the building on the northeast corner of the intersection when the accident happened. [PHOTOS PROVIDED] "><figcaption> This aerial photograph shows the location where Richard Knight, 60, of Edmond, died in a 2013 accident with a BNSF train. Knight was positioning his truck and trailer as he prepared to pick up a trackhoe being used to demolish the building on the northeast corner of the intersection when the accident happened. [PHOTOS PROVIDED] </figcaption></figure>
Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›

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