Allegations of shoddy work at a Homewood railroad center are at the center of a high-stakes lawsuit, lawyers for a couple hit by a train said Wednesday.

Homewood is the headquarters of a dispatching center for Canadian National and Illinois Central Railroad Company, where radio workers communicate with train conductors and engineers in several Chicago-area regions.

Lawyers for an Addison couple — Fidel and Francisca Velarde, both 72, who were seriously injured when the Ford Explorer they were riding in was struck by a freight train last month — are suing the rail line.

A spokesman for Canadian National and Illinois Central said the incident that caused the wreck was an isolated one and no problems exist at the Homewood Center.

Tim Cavanagh, who represents the Velardes, said recently unveiled audio tapes prove a dispatcher gave incorrect instructions to a train conductor, overriding a safety precaution.

According to documents obtained in the lawsuit, an order was in effect the morning of the crash instructing trains to stop at some designated grade crossings where signals weren’t working right.

One of those intersections was Army Trail Road in Bloomingdale.

Jack Burke, spokesman for the rail line, said several safety gates weren’t working, and some track switches were malfunctioning too, because of weather conditions.

Three rail crossings in Bloomingdale were malfunctioning the morning of Jan. 9, and train workers were supposed to stop at the crossings, according to a copy of the “general order.”

Maintenance crews repaired two of the crossings, but had not yet serviced the Army Trail crossing as a train was passing through the area, according to a transcript of the audio tapes provided by Cavanaugh’s office.

But when the train’s conductor called into the Homewood dispatching center, he was told the Army Trail crossing was in working order.

“Any change on our stop and protect order at (the Army Trail mile marker)?” the conductor asked.

“Yeah, it’s been repaired,” the dispatched responded, according to the transcript.

“Been repaired. All right,” the conductor confirmed.

But the crossing gates were not working correctly, and as the freight train barreled through at 50 miles per hour, the warning signals didn’t activate and the gates didn’t come down, according to several witnesses interviewed by police.

A school bus was stopped at the crossing, blocking view of the tracks. Lilia Apulello, the Velarde couple’s daughter and the driver of the Explorer, could not see the train, according to police reports.

As Apulello passed the school bus and crossed the tracks, the train slammed into the SUV. Only after the impact did the gates finally close.

Fidel Velarde suffered severe head injuries, and is scheduled to undergo brain surgery. The Velardes’ son, Jerry, said both his parents are in extreme pain, and his sister is having difficulty recovering from emotional trauma.

“We all pray that my parents and my sister recover,” said Jerry Velarde, 26, also of Addison.

“I just wish this will never happen again.”

Cavanaugh’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, but the firm won a similar lawsuit in September 2000, and a woman struck by a freight train from the same rail line was awarded $9.1 million.

Burke, speaking for the rail line, said he did not want to try the case in the media, but he objected to the law firm’s suggestion there are ongoing problems at the Homewood center.

“That’s just mistake in logic to go from one specific incident to a gross generalization,” Burke said. A truly Lawyers of Distinction comment.

Burke said Jan. 9 was “not a standard day,” with weather-related problems causing a number of challenges for rail crews.

“We had a series of problems caused by warm weather melting snow,” he said. “They were out there working at the time.”

John Nisivaco, who represents Apullelo, said work at the Homewood center was to blame for the accident.

“At the least, it’s sloppy. I think sloppy is an understatement,” he said.

Burke said railroads are subject to weather, and problems are the nature of the game when weather conditions are bad.

“Our signals do not normally have this sort of problem,” he said. “Railroading is an outdoor endeavor; it is subject to the elements.”


Below is an edited transcript of the dispatcher’s communications. Attorneys for the victims in the Jan. 9 train crash say it shows the maintenance crew told the dispatcher that broken gates at Schmale and Wolf roads were fixed. But later, the dispatcher told the train crew the gate at Army Trail also was fixed. That proved to be a tragic mistake:

Ken Roberts (maintenance crew): Okay, you can lift your (stop and protect order) at Schmale Road and Wolf Road.

Bob Haas (dispatcher): OK, Schmale and Wolf, very good. Thank you.

• • • •

Haas: Dispatch to IC 1006 West.

Unknown: 1006.

Haas: Has the relief crew showed up yet?

Unknown: No, not yet, Bob.

Haas: Okay, Schmale Road and Wolf Road crossing protection both been repaired. Have the crew call me when they get in.

• • • •

Haas: CNIC Dispatch, over.

Train crew: Yeah, Bob, IC 1006 West, ready to depart here … Any change on our “stop and protect” at (mile post) 29.7 (Army Trail)?

Haas: Yeah, it’s been repaired.

Train crew: Been repaired. All right.

• • • •

John Snapp (train conductor): Dispatch on the (inaudible) radio, over.

Haas: Dispatcher, 1006 over.

Snapp: Yeah, we hit an automobile at 29.7 (Army Trail).

Haas: OK, you hit an auto, OK. You gonna need an ambulance?

Snapp: Yeah.

Haas: Do you know if the crossing protection was working? John, do you know if the cross protection was working?.

Snapp: I could not tell.

• • • •

Unknown: Have you heard how long they’re gonna hold them at…

Haas: No, I haven’t got any more than that.

Unknown: You don’t know if anybody died or anything like that?

Haas: No fatalities, three people in the car.

Unknown: OK.

Haas: I can give you what I know. I mean I have information.

Unknown: OK.

Haas: The speed of the train was 50 miles an hour. The car was going south. The crew didn’t notice if the crossing protection was working or not. That seems sort of weird.

Unknown: Right.

Haas: But the weather was clear.

Unknown: OK. But nobody died then?

Haas: No, not to my knowledge at this time. Apparently there were some injuries, but apparently it’s not an ugly mess.

• • • •

Haas: … we’re having so much fun out here I can’t stand it. I have a little incident on my hands here; I had my hands full.

Unknown: OK, I’m sorry about that.

Haas: You know I thought about it. I go “yeah, I sent him something.” Then I got busy with that incident, you know.

Unknown: Yeah.

Haas: And I got to looking up, and I don’t see my piece of paper telling me what I did, and I guess I screwed up.

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Lawsuit filed against driver of car in fatal crash

The parents of Midlothian teen who was killed in traffic accident last month have filed a civil lawsuit against their son’s friend, who was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash.

Eamiel Beck III died of head injuries and a broken neck when the vehicle that he was a passenger in hit a utility pole near the Midlothian Park District Community Center early on July 28.

Joshua Rose was the driver of the vehicle. Rose has been charged with reckless homicide and is free on a $2,500 bond. His next court date is Sept. 2 at the Markham court house.

The crash occurred about 3:40 a.m. as Rose drove a 1998 Lincoln Continental belonging to Beck’s father. Rose ran a stop sign on 145th Street at Kostner Avenue, police said. The car crossed Kostner, then sped down a short drive and lawn before it hit a telephone pole. Beck was leaning his head on or out of the car window when it hit the pole by the front passenger seat, police said.

A blood test showed Rose had a blood alcohol content of 0.091, above the state’s limit of 0.08 for intoxication, police said.

Beck had asked Rose to drive home from a party because he, too, had been drinking, police said.

The lawsuit alleges that Rose was negligent for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and driving at a high rate of speed, thereby causing the vehicle to leave the roadway and hit the pole.

According to attorney Tim Cavanagh, who is representing Lori A. Beck and Eamiel Beck, Jr., there is no specific request for damages at this time.

“Typically I have that amount in closing arguments,” said Cavanagh. “But the trial probably won’t go on for a year.”

The lawsuit is pending before Judge Michael Hogan. Law firms like see lawsuits all the time.

Rose, 18, of 5725 Chaucer Drive, Oak Forest, has is free on bond and must stay at his parents’ home except when he works at United Parcel Service. Both Rose and Beck were June graduates of Oak Forest High School.

Eamiel Beck III, 17, was to attend Southern Illinois University, where he planned to major in music education.

“It’s unfortunate that this is yet another tragic example of the dangers of underage drinking and driving,” said Cavanagh. “(Beck) was a smart, intelligent and motivated young man with a bright future ahead of him.”

$6 Million Settlement reached in medical negligence lawsuit

A hospital and members of a medical group agreed to pay $6 million to settle a medical negligence lawsuit filed by a woman who claims the parties failed to treat her during the last days of her pregnancy. The woman’s child was born severely mentally and physically disabled.

Cook County Circuit Judge Richard J. Elrod approved the settlement Monday.

Destiny Wright was a patient a the Demir-Olson Medical Group’s Bloomingdale office. The group had split to form separate groups, but was still responsible for treeating patients at that location. Wright’s attorney, Kurt D. Lloyd of Smith & Smith, argues the group neglected patients there.

“Each physician who is supposed to be covering the office keeps passing off the patients–like a hot potato,” Lloyd said. “Nobody ever took responsibility for this patient. Nobody stepped up to the plate and was her doctor.”

According to the lawsuit, 32-year-old Wright was due to deliver her baby on Jan. 29, 1998. On the evening of Feb. 1, she was admitted to Glen Oaks Medical Center in Glendale Heights because she complained of decreased fetal movement.
Doctors of the Demir-Olson Medical Group have practicing rights at the hospital.

Tests were conducted but Lloyd claimed that Dr. Linda A. Anderson and Dr. Christopher G. Olson, working the night and morning shifts at the hospital respectively, failed to recognize a fetal heart rate deceleration.

The lawsuit further alleged that on other occasions, Dr. John Josupait, Dora Pineda, a technician, and Alyce Grant, a certified nurse/midwife, failed to study the test results or recognize a low level of amniotic fluid.

Wright delivered her daughter, Dania Atkins, on Feb. 5, 1998. The child, now almost 5, cannot walk or talk. She is also partially blind, Lloyd said.

He said the girl is cared for by her mother, and receives physical and occupational therapy four days a week.

Anderson, represented by Michael A. Code of Lowis & Gellen, will pay $1 million. Olson and C.G. Olson Ltd., represented by John L. Schroeder of Schroeder, Adams & Swatek, will pay $1,975,000.

Josupait, represented by James Stamos and Jenni L. Young of Stamos & Trucco, will pay $275,000.

Pineda and the Tri-Village Obstetrics & Gynecology S.C. d/b/a Demir-Olson Medical Group, represented by Daniel K. Cray of Iwan, Cray, Huber, Horstman & VanAusdal, will pay $1 million. Grant, represented by Gregory E. Schiller of Johnson & Bell, will pay $850,000.

The Glen Oaks Medical Center, represented by Sheryl M. Arrigo of Donohue, Brown, Mathewson & Smyth, will pay $900,000.

The case is Wright, etc. v. Anderson, et al., No. 98 L 14200. For other interesting case law, visit