Metra agrees to $12.2 million settlement in 2015 fatal crash in Hometown, Ill., that killed 2 women

Metra agrees to $12.2 million settlement in 2015 fatal crash in Hometown, Ill., that killed 2 women

The settlement was announced May 19 by the law firm that represented the families of the two women killed.
May 20, 2022

By Mike Nolan, Daily Southtown

Metra has agreed to a $12.25 million settlement alleging negligence stemming from a December 2015 crash in Hometown that killed two Chicago cousins and injured four others.

The settlement was announced Thursday by the law firm that represented the families of the two women killed, and a Metra spokeswoman said Friday the settlement was approved at the board's meeting Wednesday, but the rail line had no further comment.

A second fatal crash at the crossing, at 87th Street and South Pulaski Road, occurred in February 2020 that involved a train, vehicle and pedestrian.

Metra has since instituted changes at the crossing meant to prevent train vs vehicle collisions, but an attorney for the victims in both crashes said that the crossing still isn't safe enough and more, inexpensive improvements should be made.

In the Dec. 28, 2015, crash, the car was traveling west on 87th and the light for westbound traffic turned red, and the driver stopped between the tracks and the gates, according to Coplan Crane, the law firm that represented the victims.

The gates came down behind the vehicle as the outbound train on the SouthWest Service Line approached the intersection, and the 16-year-old male behind the wheel tried to dislodge the car, which was stuck on ice and couldn't move, according to the firm.

The engineer of the train, in his deposition, reported seeing the car wheels spinning, then the car lurched forward onto the tracks, Ben Crane, a principal with the firm, said Friday.

Killed were 18-year-old Alexis Kemp, who was a senior at Bogan High School, and her 20-year-old cousin, Juniel Kemp, who was a student at Kennedy King College. The 3-year-old brother of the driver of the car was among those injured.

Crane said it was snowing heavily that day and the driver was unsure whether he was on or off the tracks as the train approached.

In a second fatal accident, this one in February 2020, the gate came down on top of a vehicle stopped at the crossing, and the driver tried to back up but the vehicle was hemmed in, authorities said at the time. The driver hit the gas and the car went forward and was struck by a Metra train.

Three women in the car suffered serious injuries, and the collision between the train and car resulted in a 19-year-old pedestrian, Christopher Davis, being hit by the vehicle and dying two days later. Crane said his firm is representing Davis' family in a lawsuit against Metra.

Funding for changes at the crossing was approved before the February 2020 crash, and modifications, completed in the summer of 2020, moved the gates closer to the tracks and made them parallel with the tracks rather than perpendicular to the road in an effort to keep a vehicle from being stuck between the gates and tracks.

Crane said that "there are ample opportunities for a vehicle to be caught" between the tracks and crossing gates, and that he believes there are more changes that could be made. He said a pre-signal before the traffic lights, or signs indicating where drivers should stop on a red as they approach the gates, would help.

Long term, an expensive fix such as a grade separation would be the most beneficial, but in the near term "there are a number of things they could do to make it safer."

"There's got to be a drastic redesign there," Crane said. "The last thing I want is to have another dead carload of kids I represent."

mnolan@tribpub.com

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