GLENVIEW – A Chicago law firm Friday identified a lawyer and his wife as the victims of a suburban freight train derailment that took out a railroad bridge and sent hundreds of tons of coal and rail cars crashing down onto the road below.
Burton and Zorine Lindner of Glenview were driving under the railroad bridge Wednesday when the train derailed. Thirty-one of the rail cars piled up on the bridge, causing it to collapse over a road between the suburbs of Glenview and Northbrook. A huge mound of twisted train cars and coal filled the gap where the bridge had been.
Officials initially said that no one was injured, but workers clearing debris discovered a bumper Thursday morning and later uncovered the crushed car with the victims inside.
Burton Lindner, 69, was a lawyer with his own practice in downtown Chicago, where he worked alongside his oldest son, Robert. He graduated from DePaul Law School in 1970, according to a biography on the website of the firm, Lindner and Lindner, which focused on personal injury claims.
His 70-year-old wife was a retired a high school guidance counselor, and together they traveled the world and took part in charitable causes, including helping build homes after Hurricane Katrina and working in soup kitchens over Thanksgiving, said Michael Helfand, who grew up in their neighborhood as a close friend of the couple’s other son, Matthew. The couple doted on their four grandchildren.
“They were big, big livers of life,” Helfand said, recalling their travels, many of which took them to Asia, an area of the world they came to love in part because of the firm’s many Chinese-American clients.
“Burt worked with his son Rob in his law firm, which was a real source of pride in his life that he got to work with son on a daily basis,” Helfand said.
The couple had been enjoying the Fourth of July and were on their way to a movie when they drove under the bridge, he said. Others thought they might have been headed to a botanical garden.
A 138-car Union Pacific train hauling coal from an eastern Wyoming mine to a utility in Wisconsin crossed their path. It was one of the 500 freight trains carrying 631 million tons of cargo that go through the Chicago area each day.
Investigators believe the extreme heat may have caused the rail to expand and led to the derailment. The bridge collapsed under the weight of the toppled rail cars. Each one weighed 75 to 85 tons. Temperatures soared above 100 degrees in the Chicago area Wednesday.
“That’s what we’re looking at the likely scenario,” said Tom Lange, a Union Pacific spokesman.
On Friday, stretches of twisted tracks, dozens of axles and giant train wheels lay in a pile of tangled metal at the site.
Lange said the company wanted to “express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the victims.”
The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday accusing Union Pacific Railroad Co. of negligence and failing to maintain the safety of the tracks and freight cars. The three-count lawsuit seeks at least $150,000 in damages.
“I don’t care how hot it is, trains aren’t supposed to fly off the tracks and crush people,” said one of their lawyers, Michael LaMonica, at a news conference at the accident site.
Their other attorney, Erron Fisher, said the railroad’s clean-up was hasty, scattered and may have hauled off potentially key evidence.
“This scene is already totally destroyed,” he said about any forensics that could be gleaned from the site.
Lange said Union Pacific cooperated with local authorities to ensure any evidence was preserved and halted debris removal Friday upon hearing of a court order to stop work.
Keyser reported from Chicago.