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Bus Passengers Sue After Deadly Crash With Train

BUTLER, Pa. (CN) - Four special-needs adults injured when their bus collided with a freight train have filed lawsuits for damages, as have the families of the three senior citizens who died after the crash.

The lawsuits come just a few days after a judge sentenced the driver, Frank Schaffner, to a year of house arrest in connection to the April 26, 2013, crash.

Schaffner, now 60, had pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and eight counts of reckless endangerment.

Just one passenger, 91-year-old Claudette Miller, died at the scene, while 88-year-old John Burkett succumbed to his injuries eight days later, and James Boyles "died a lingering death on March 24, 2014," at age 83, according to the complaints.

On the day Schaffner failed to stop at the Maple Avenue railroad crossing in Evans City and collided with a freight train, according to the complaints, there were 10 either elderly or mentally challenged passengers aboard the bus.

Schaffner had allegedly been driving this route for Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, a nonprofit that runs Butler Area Rural Transit aka Butler County Transportation for Persons With Disabilities, for approximately two years.

The March 16 lawsuits, which all use the same verbiage and structure, describe the route as "routinely" unsafe because it was a custom of Schaffner's to barrel through the Maple Avenue railroad crossing without stopping or looking.

"The railroad crossing on Maple Avenue ... is controlled by a crossbuck style railroad crossing sign that does not contain lights or any mechanical indicators," according to the complaints. "Nevertheless, the Railroad Crossing is plainly visible and readily apparent to drivers approaching and crossing it."

Pennsylvania law requires vehicles to stop between 50 and 15 feet of a railroad crossing, then look in both directions for approaching trains, the complaints note.

On the day of the crash, Schaffner had already driven through the crossing without stopping to pick up his passengers.

Schaffner had the 10 passengers in his bus at 8:08 a.m. when he "failed to stop at the Railroad Crossing or to make any attempt whatsoever to look or listen for an oncoming train," the complaints allege.

"Instead, defendant Schaffner carelessly, recklessly, and negligently drove into the Railroad Crossing and directly in front of an oncoming train, even as his aged and mentally challenged passengers screamed in terror and braced for impact," the complaints continue.

"Defendant Schaffner never looked to see the oncoming train, even as the BART bus was blasted into the air from the tracks before ultimately coming to rest on a nearby hillside."

Local news reported heavy fog on the day of the crash, and articles quoted the survivors and families as saying they were "not angry" at Schaffner for the accident.

Schaffner apologized at his sentencing, noting that all of the passengers "were my friends."

All the lawsuits seek punitive damages for negligence, and three allege wrongful death.

The four plaintiffs who survived with injuries are Patrick Cameron, David Goehring, Jennifer Affolder and John Burgard.

Raymond Conlon of Conlon Tarker represents Burkett's widow, while Jeffrey Tarker of the same firm represents Affolder, described in the complaint as an adult with developmental delays. Affolder allegedly survived the crash with a facial and nasal fracture.

Tarker also represents Goehring, described in the complaint as an adult with developmental delays who suffered a concussion in the crash.

Michael Louik of Rosen, Louik & Perry represents Boyles' widow and Burgard, described in the complaint as an adult with Down syndrome.

Burgard sustained complex fractures in his left leg and knee after the accident, and he fractured his sternum, his complaint alleges.

Cynthia Danel of Edgar Snyder represents Miller's granddaughter.

Robert Fendt of Perskie & Fendt represents Cameron, described in the complaint as an adult with mental disabilities who survived the crash with a scapular fracture.

Attorneys for the defendants and plaintiffs have either not returned requests for comment or declined to do so.

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