HAMMOND | A new lawsuit blames the CSX railroad company for a train-minivan wreck in Hammond that killed two children and their mother, who apparently raced her van to a crossing before the minivan was crushed between two trains in September 2007.
The lawsuit filed by Debra Avila, the mother of the minivan's driver, claims CSX was negligent for failing to install gates at the Johnson Avenue crossing on Hammond's north side. The lawsuit filed in Hammond federal court also claims the freight trains were moving too fast and that they failed to sound horns, slow down or stop before the wreck that killed Edie Bolanos, 32, and her two daughters, Crystal Bolanos, 11, and Anahi Bolanos, 8, all of Hammond. Two of Bolanos' other children -- Leonardo Verduzco and Daniel Rodriguez Jr. -- also were hurt.
The crash on Sept. 1, 2007, was caught on a surveillance video that appears to show Edie Bolanos racing the van through a South Shore Line parking lot to beat an eastbound freight train, then whipping a sharp right turn onto Johnson Street. As she pulled onto the tracks, an apparently unnoticed westbound freight train pounded the van into the path of the eastbound train. The two girls were flung from the van and died at the scene. Edie Bolanos survived for 10 days before she died at an Illinois hospital.
Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said his officers found Bolanos caused the wreck by failing to yield to the trains.
"I think the video says it all," Miller said.
Avila's lawyer, I. Peter Polansky, said Tuesday that CSX negligently maintained the "ultrahazardous" crossing at Johnson Avenue and Hudson Street. Polansky does not claim Edie Bolanos drove responsibly, but he said CSX should have done more to protect the tracks. Trains have hit many cars at the crossing, Polansky said.
"It should be a protected crossing with gates, rather than with just flashing lights," Polansky said.
Polansky filed the suit on behalf of Avila and the children, but Edie Bolanos is never mentioned in the lawsuit. Polansky said he was not hired to represent Edie Bolanos' estate.
CSX's Hammond-based lawyer, Harold Abrahamson, declined to comment on the lawsuit's claims, but said the company will fight the suit.
"We will be defending the case and disputing the allegations," Abrahamson said.
A spokesman for CSX did not return a call for comment Tuesday.
The lawsuit was first filed in Lake Superior Court, but Abrahamson filed a motion to move the case into Hammond federal court. A federal judge will rule on jurisdiction.