I was listening to a piece of music the other day with some drums in it, and it occurred to me to look up my old landlady’s friend Z’EV. To my surprise, Z’EV had passed, in 2017. According to his Wikipedia page, he was a big deal in the SoHo music scene in the 70’s and 80’s, performing in happening places like the Kitchen and Danceteria. When he died, of lung failure, he was staying with a friend in Chicago.
The lung failure was caused by being severely injured in an Amtrak train derailment the year before, in 2016. Those of you who think of trains as a safer alternative to flying …. well, not in this case.
The story behind Z’EVs death of lung failure in Chicago involves an unreported accident with a runaway feed truck. The truck rolled down an incline, crossed a road and slammed into some tracks hard enough to cause a bend in one track. It was enough to derail the passenger train. The truck itself rolled over and was then driven back up the hill by the guy who left it idling and unattended to begin with. He was worried about his job. He didn’t notice the bend in the track. He didn’t call 911 or the posted rail emergency number. His boss laughed when it happened. For them it was just another day. They had no idea what would happen next. The trucking company fought responsibility for several years, and then took responsibility and settled.
There is some Better Call Saul-esque color in the truck story in the judgment, which is an elaborate, lengthy document describing what is ultimately a very simple event (a truck ran down a hill). It’s a slice of life of some folks in the middle of a giant cornfield:
The morning before the accident, two Cimarron employees were working on the
company’s feed lot, which is located north of Highway 50 and the BNSF rail line. Kevin Ornelas was operating the feed mill and Arturo Carillo was operating a feed truck, a 2004 Kenworth grain hauling truck, which had an empty weight of at least 26,900 lbs. and had gross vehicle weight range of 26,000 to 33,000 pounds.
Carillo had made several feed lot runs that morning before Ornelas asked him for
help unplugging a “soak leg” that had become clogged on the feed mill. Ornelas needed Carillo to open and close a gate at ground level that runs corn up into the soak tanks, so that Ornelas, standing up on a catwalk over the soak tanks, could make sure the downspout was clean.
Carillo parked the truck next to the soak tanks and grain elevators facing south in
the direction of the railroad track. As Carillo left the truck to help Ornelas, it was parked on an incline facing in a downhill direction away from the mill and toward the highway and railroad tracks.
Some time between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., Ornelas, with a clear view of the truck
from atop the soak tank catwalk, watched the truck start to roll and yelled down to Carillo that the truck was rolling away. Carillo went to get his personal truck, losing sight of the run-away feed truck in the process.
Ornelas saw the runaway feed truck roll down the hill, across Highway 50, into
the ditch running parallel to the train tracks on the south side of the highway, up the
opposite side of the ditch, and then back down into the ditch where it stopped, still facing south. The momentum of the thirteen-ton truck was enough that when it crossed the highway into the ditch it became airborne.
In the ditch, the truck’s undercarriage bottomed out before it continued, striking
the rail track roadbed. The impact caused a displacement of between seven to ten (but most typically described as a nine) inch displacement of the tracks
To reach the feed truck, Carillo drove his personal truck across Highway 50,
crossed the railroad tracks at a grade crossing on the south side of the highway, and
turned right on a dirt road on the south side of, and running parallel to, the tracks. Carillo parked his personal truck on the dirt road directly across the tracks from where the Cimarron feed truck had come to rest, and walked right over the damaged track.
Carillo found the still-running feed lot truck in the ditch, sitting perpendicular to
the railroad tracks. He moved the truck away from the tracks and drove it back up to the feed lot where he told Rita Tobyne, Cimarron’s head feed truck driver, what happened. He asked her to call feed lot manager Maynard Burl and tell him the feed truck had rolled to the other side of Highway 50. Tobyne said she was not going to call Burl.
Carillo then asked Ornelas to call Burl, which Ornelas did, asking Burl to come out
to the feed lot. Ornelas has testified that, while they were waiting for Burl to arrive, he took Carillo back down to the railroad tracks to retrieve his personal vehicle.
At the time the truck hit the BNSF tracks, there was a railroad crossing sign near
where the truck impacted the tracks, which also contains a blue sign with a 1-800 phone number to report problems or emergencies to BNSF.
Ornelas saw the sign as he crossed over the tracks and was aware of the sign, but
neither he nor any other Cimarron employee called the 1-800 phone number to report the truck runaway incident.
When Burl came to the feed lot, Ornelas showed him the path the truck had taken
down the hill, and told him that the truck had gone across the highway and through the ditch on the south side of the highway, and pointed him to where the truck had come to rest.
Carillo also tried to tell Burl about the path that the truck had taken and where it
had come to rest, but Burl said he did not care and that Carillo would probably get fired. Burl observed the path that the truck left through the field from the mill to the
highway. After being told what had happened, Burl did not go down to examine the
railroad tracks and did not ask either Ornelas or Carillo whether there had been any
damage to the tracks.
Instead, he yelled at Carillo that he did not care that the truck had crossed the
highway, criticized Ornelas for asking Carillo to help unclog the soak leg, pointed out to both men that the truck had likely suffered several thousand dollars in damage, and told Carillo that he would probably get fired or written up. Burl straightened the feed truck’s bent muffler, and went home.
Later in the afternoon Cimarron assistant manager Jim Fairbank came to the mill.
Ornelas told him that the feed truck had rolled down the hill and across the highway, and Fairbank laughed about it and made no effort to see for himself where it had rolled.
No one at Cimarron did any further investigation, or contacted the railroad, law
enforcement, or any other party to inform them of the truck roll-away incident.
No word on whether or not Carillo kept his job. The feed lot is still there.