Oklahoma family suing railway company after family member dies of heart attack, emergency vehicles stuck behind train blocking tracks

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NOBLE, Okla. (KFOR) – A Noble family is suing the BNSF Railway company Thursday after their family member died from a heart attack in September 2020 while the emergency vehicles coming to his aid were stuck behind a train at the only entrance to their street.

According to the lawsuit, the conductor wouldn’t move the train. While railway companies can’t be fined for blocking the tracks, the attorney’s said they feel they have to do everything they can when a person’s life is on the line.

“I think it’s going to take a major tragedy for the railroad company to wake up and decide that they’re going to do something,” said Chad Byrd in June of 2015. He is the son of Larry Gene Byrd, who died of a heart attack in September 2020 while the emergency vehicles were stuck behind the train on the tracks.

Citizens like Chad Byrd told KFOR six and a half years ago that the trains blocking the tracks were a problem.

Now, the Noble family is claiming it’s the cause of their loved one’s death. Byrd was complaining about the tracks near his home. At the time, those tracks were sitting on the only crossing to get to their home.

“I think the major concern is if somebody’s injured, trying to get an ambulance to that side,” Byrd said in 2015.

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BNSF Railway

Fast forward to early September of 2020 when Byrd’s premonitions would become a reality when his father died.

“It’s unbelievably tragic,” said Timothy Gaarder, an attorney for the Byrd family.

Gaarder is now representing the Byrd family in the lawsuit against BNSF Railway. BNSF is the owner of the tracks and the train blocking the road at the time.

“They don’t have any regard to people’s time,” Byrd said in 2015.

The lawsuit states numerous calls to Noble police regarding a train blocking an area nearby for over two hours. When emergency crews arrived, police asked the conductor if the train could be moved. He said no. The lawsuit added that the conductor then “closed the locomotives window and would not respond to any further questions.”

“I think we all believe and hope and expect that if and when we need emergency services, they’ll be able to get to us,” Gaarder said.

A law allowing authorities to fine railway companies for blocking the tracks was struck down by a federal judge. However, Gaarder said the focus of their lawsuit is an Oklahoma law that reads, “Every railroad shall be opened in such a manner as to minimize obstruction of emergency vehicles at public grade crossings.” He added that he and the family feel that railway companies have to do everything they can when someone’s life is on the line.

“They want to know why everything in the world wasn’t done to try to get that care to their loved one,” Gaarder said about the Byrd family.

KFOR reached out to BNSF for comment. They called back and left a voicemail saying that they couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have anything for you,” the caller said.

KFOR spoke to the City of Noble as well. City officials said the tracks were a problem. Assistant City Manager Robert Porton said it was a critical public safety issue.

“That has been the longstanding issue with that intersection and one that hasn’t particularly improved until somewhat recently,” Porton said.

In early June, the city opened up another access south of that area. They had to go through a condemnation process to do it.

“Ever since that was opened up, I don’t believe we’ve had any complications with public safety reaching those people on the other side,” Porton said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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