First Claims Filed in Fatal Mississippi Train-Bus Crash

DALLAS (CN) — The first two lawsuits have been filed over the fatal Tuesday collision between a casino-bound charter bus from Texas and a freight train in Biloxi, Mississippi, that killed four passengers.

Survivors Darwyn and Maria Hanna, of Bastrop, sued bus operator Echo Tours & Charter, ET&C GP LLC, TBL Group Inc. – all of Dallas – and railroad operator CSX Transportation, on Thursday in Dallas County Court.

The doomed bus carried around 50 people, mostly from the Bastrop Seniors Center. The Hannas say the bus was stuck on a railroad crossing on Main Street in Biloxi for around five minutes.

“The driver of the tourist bus failed to heed the warning sign located near the track that warned of a ‘humped’ crossing,” the complaint states. “The CSXT train failed to apply its brakes in order to avoid the collision. Moreover, CSXT failed to properly design and maintain the crossing, as a Pepsi truck got stuck on this same crossing two months earlier and likewise was struck by a CSXT train.”

The crossing was “ultra-hazardous and dangerous” because it has a steep grade and the potential for “high centering” cars in the area that CSX failed to maintain, the complaint states.

The Hannas say they will suffer future mental anguish “as a result of fearing for death as the train barreled” toward them.

Dee Voight, the son of killed passenger Peggy Hoffman, of Bastrop, filed a similar lawsuit on Wednesday in the same court. He sued Echo, CSX, the unidentified bus driver and tour operator Diamond Tours, of Fort Myers, Florida, for wrongful death and negligence in the death of his mother and her husband, Kenneth Hoffman. The Hoffmans were retired administrators formerly with the Lockhart Independent School District, NBC-affiliate KXAN reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said Thursday the ill-fated bus was part of a three-bus convoy and was following different directions from a Global Positioning System unit when it became stuck at the crossing.

“That was not in the directions he was given,” Sumwalt said at a news conference. He said investigators have yet to meet with the unidentified driver, and are “in the process of reaching out” to him through his employer.

Michael Esters, Biloxi’s first black city councilman, died at the same railroad crossing in 1983, the Sun Herald newspaper reported Tuesday. A nearby road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks was named in his honor.

CSX declined to comment Friday morning, citing its policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

The Hannas seek actual and punitive damages for negligence and a temporary injunction to prevent the defendants from destroying any evidence, including the engine, black boxes and any video recordings.

They are represented by Mitchell Toups with Weller Green in Beaumont, Gregory Evans in Houston and Peter Malouf in Dallas.