MARCH 23, 2011 12:32 p.m. (0)
A Union County family Wednesday afternoon filed the first lawsuit to come out of the Spartanburg miniature train tragedy, said Tom Killoren the attorney representing the family.
Killoren said the family is suing Spartanburg County, the county recreation commission and the state Labor, Licensing and Regulation commission and is seeking unspecified damages.
“There is a cap on the dollar amount you can get if you win a case like this (suing a governmental body), but our position is that there should be multiple caps involved,” Killoren said.
Killoren said the cap is $300,000 per individual and $600,000 per occurrence. “Our position is that it should be more,” he said.
The family is alleging that the county and parks commission exercised inadequate supervision of the train operator and failed to inspect the tracks. State LLR failed to adequately inspect the train, he said.
The suit is being filed on behalf of Brooks Harris, wife Tasha, and their two young children Bryson and Jordan of Union.
Killoren said the family was at Cleveland Park to enjoy riding the train when the accident occurred. The parents suffered soft tissue injuries. Bryson suffered a concussion and was taken to Greenville Memorial for treatment. Jordan had soft tissue injuries.
All family members were treated and released, he said.
The man driving the train told police he was driving too fast when the accident occurred. And the man responsible for inspecting the train has acknowledged he did not take the train on a required test run but certified it anyway.
A 6-year-old boy was killed and 28 children and adults injured.
“I went down there just after it happened, the police wouldn’t let me get close, but I could see the cars down in that rocky gully and knew this was bad,” said Dwane Broyles, 76, who has driven the train for seven years.
The train was on the third lap of its first run of the season, passing over a bridge, when the rear of the engine derailed, pulling the three passenger cars into a creek bed lined with rocks.
On board were 28 people, including children from Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney attending a birthday party.
Benjamin Samuel Easler, 6, a son of the church pastor Dwight Easler died about 45 minutes after the crash at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, Spartanburg Coroner Rusty Clevenger said.
All of the church members who were injured have been released from the hospital, said Nathan Ellis, the youth minister at Corinth Baptist.
Three injured children were taken by helicopter to the Children’s Hospital at Greenville Memorial Hospital due to the severity of their injuries, said Clevenger.
“I can’t comment to the degree of these children’s injuries, but the fact they were flown to Greenville give you an idea of the severity of their injuries,” he said.
Sandy Dees, a spokeswoman for the Greenville Hospital System, said she could not release information on the condition of the children due to privacy concerns.
A candlelight memorial for Benjamin Easler was held at Cleveland Park Tuesday evening, said Jeff Caton, director of the Spartanburg County Parks and Recreation Commission, the operators of the ride. Also injured in the accident were Benjamin’s parents and two brothers.
“This whole thing has been rough,” said Caton. “We sat at the hospital with the families after the accident. And there was nothing we could say to those parents to ease their pain. All we could do was be there.”
He said the church arranged for a sheriff’s chaplain to sit with the families of children in Greenville.
Matthew Mark Conrad, the engineer driving the train, told police he went slow the first lap, sped up on the second and “opened it up” on the third, according to the incident report.
Conrad was taken to Spartanburg Regional Hospital, treated for a concussion and released.
Broyles said he is good friends with Conrad and considered him a good train operator.
“We all walk the track before the ride opens each day,” he said. “And we go over the entire ride before the kids get on. That creek bed is the absolute worst place for something like this to happen.”
State Labor, Licensing and Regulation inspector Donnie Carrigan resigned on Monday after state officials found he didn’t take the train on the test run and that his license as an inspector had expired.
Carrigan said the battery was dead in the train when he went to inspect it, said Catherine Templeton, director of the licensing board.
State officials closed all miniature train rides in the state after the accident and said the popular attractions would remain closed until all of the trains have been reinspected.
Mike Teachey, with the Greenville County Recreation Department, said officials are looking for an independent inspector to check the miniature train at the Pavilion, which was made at the same time as Sparkles.
“We do this out of an abundance of caution,” he said. “I’ve got young kids and this is every parent’s nightmare.”
The train at Cleveland Park, named Sparkles, started making the rounds in 1953 and was sold to a private individual in 1961.
J.V. Cannon, who restored miniature trains, rebuilt Sparkles and completely refurbished the vehicle. Cannon died in 2006.
Broyles said Sparkles and Sparky, the park’s other train, were lovingly tended to by the engineers and staff at the park.
He started driving the 25-horsepower train after he retired as an insurance claims inspector.
Driving the train is a labor of love.
“The kids come up and just wrap their arms around your legs after going on a ride,” he said.
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