A train wreck of a decision

By The Madison County Record | Jan 9, 2011

It's easy enough to miss a train. You just show up late at the depot.

It's easy enough to miss a train. You just show up late at the depot.

But how do you miss – i.e., not see -- a train that's bearing down on you at a crossing? Even Johnny Cash in his Folsom Prison cell heard the train a-coming.

Sure, your car might stall on the tracks, or you might miscalculate trying to beat the train to the crossing. But, unless you're not paying attention, you're not likely to miss a train coming down on you.

Guy Webb sure did, though. He drove his truck onto a private crossing in Iron County, Mo. in 2007 and collided with a Union Pacific train. Guy suffered massive injuries and his brother, James, in the passenger seat, was killed.

Guy Webb blamed Union Pacific for the accident and sued the railroad. James Webb's daughter, Misty, decided her uncle was at least partly to blame. She sued the railroad and her uncle. The uncle settled with his niece and the two joined forces against Union Pacific.

Armed with video footage of the accident from a camera mounted on the train, the railroad argued that Guy Webb ran a stop sign posted at the private crossing, stopped on the company's tracks, and then accelerated into the train. Union Pacific also contended that both Webb brothers were under the influence of the drug Ecstasy at the time.

Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian refused to allow evidence of the brothers' drug use and rejected the railroad's crucial distinction between private and public crossings, which require different levels of caution. As a result, the jury found in favor of the Webbs.

Union Pacific is appealing the $1.25 million judgment, arguing that the distinction between public and private crossings is the essential question in the case.

You've got to wonder how Judge Matoesian could miss something so obvious. It's almost like missing a train.

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