Injured Family’s Case Against Railroad Opens

A railroad company Wednesday accepted responsibility for an accident a year ago in Bloomingdale that severely injured a Carol Stream woman and her parents.

However, the Canadian National/Illinois Central Railroad said it was not responsible for several injuries the victims blame on the crash.

Attorneys gave opening statements Wednesday to a jury in Cook County circuit court in Chicago in the lawsuit the family filed against the railroad.

Railroad attorney John Kelly insisted the company was at fault for not properly securing the malfunctioning railroad crossing at Army Trail Road, just west of Gary Avenue, on Jan. 9, 2001, when the accident happened.

The warning gates did not go down as the train approached because road salt kept the sensors from working correctly, he said. The railroad had issued a warning to train crews to stop before going through the crossing, but the crew of the train involved in the accident was incorrectly told the warning had been rescinded, the railroad admitted.

Kelly also told the jury the car accident might have been avoided if the railroad had taken standard safety measures, including manually blocking the crossing as the train went through.

But he contended the driver could have avoided the accident if she had paid more attention to her surroundings.

“Some witnesses heard the train’s horns and whistles as it approached the crossing and were cautious enough to stop and look,” Kelly said.

Lilia Apuello, 40, was driving west on Army Trail Road and over the crossing with her parents when the freight train pulling 63 cars went through the crossing and struck her sport utility vehicle at about 50 mph.

Apuello suffered a brain injury that has left her almost helpless and a broken wrist, her attorney, Terry Lavin, said. He described Apuello as being “like a four-year-old lost at the mall.”

Her parents, Francisca and Fidel Velarde, both now 73, also suffered severe brain injuries in the crash, said their attorney, Tim Cavanagh.

Lavin said Apuello could not have seen the train as it approached from the southeast because of trees blocking the tracks. He also disputed whether the train’s horn was sounded in enough time to give drivers advance warning.

Cavanagh said the accident has left the once-active Velardes homebound and unable to be left alone. Francesca Velarde, he said, suffered severe memory loss and cannot do many simple tasks. Her husband, he said, mumbles incoherently because of the mild traumatic brain injuries he suffered.

The family is asking for an unspecified amount of money from the railroad. The family’s medical bills have exceeded hundreds of thousands of dollars, their attorneys said.

Kelly, however, said he plans to prove to the jury that both Francisca and Fidel Velarde aggravated pre-existing conditions in the accident. Francisca Velarde, Kelly said, already had lost some memory and had slow motor skills because of uncontrolled diabetes. Fidel Velarde aggravated a brain injury he suffered in 1997 when he had a stroke, Kelly said.

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