Jury selection to begin Monday in suit against railroad over women’s deaths

RIVERSIDE – Motions concerning evidence and witnesses were argued today ahead of a civil trial to resolve claims of negligence against Union Pacific Railroad in connection with the deaths of two women struck by a train in Riverside.

Attorneys for the families of 23-year-old Renee Ammari and 18-year-old Tanya Sayegh, both of San Bernardino, pressed for Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Vineyard to allow them to ask questions about the train conductor’s familiarity with a locomotive’s emergency break, while the defense questioned the relevance of it.

Vineyard granted the plaintiffs’ request to ask the questions, which go to the heart of the lawsuit’s contention that the UPR crew bears responsibility for the fatalities by failing to slow the 86-car train in time to prevent it from smashing into the victims in the predawn hours of Nov. 1, 2007.

Attorneys confirmed to City News Service that jury selection in the case will begin Monday morning.

Ammari and Sayegh were struck after Ammari drove her black 1996 Honda Passport SUV onto tracks crossing Mission Inn Avenue.

According to a coroner’s report, Ammari had a blood-alcohol level that was nearly twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in California at the time of the accident.

The women had been at a Halloween party at Cafe Sevilla in downtown Riverside just before they were killed. According to investigators, they left the party around 1 a.m., heading southeast on Mission Inn Avenue. Ammari turned onto a gravel strip that straddles a pair of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks at Santa Fe Avenue.

According to coroner’s officials, the disoriented Ammari apparently realized her mistake and attempted to make a U-turn on the tracks to get back to Mission Inn, but the SUV became stuck between the tracks and a retaining wall.

Witnesses reported seeing both women outside the vehicle at one point, looking around on the ground.

At 1:15 a.m., a northbound Union Pacific train approached the women’s location, traveling around 35 mph. The train engineer later told investigators that he spotted Ammari’s dark-colored vehicle in the train’s headlight, sounded the horn and applied the brakes.

Coroner’s officials said video from the train’s front camera recorded the image of a woman standing on the passenger side of a vehicle with her hands stretched in front of her chest.

The locomotive knocked the SUV end-over-end into the women. Sayegh was pronounced dead at the scene. Ammari died about five hours later at Riverside Community Hospital.

”Had the crew of the Union Pacific Railroad Company been alert and attentive, as per the rules governing railroad operations, they then would have seen the flashing warning-hazard lights of the plaintiffs’ vehicle and applied the emergency brakes,” the families’ attorney, Ron Makarem, said.

The dead women’s families are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Union Pacific.

”We believe our train crew acted responsibly in the unfortunate circumstances in this incident,” UPR spokesman Aaron Hunt recently told CNS.

The families also sued BNSF and the city of Riverside, but those cases were dismissed, according to court records.

9 Responses to "Jury selection to begin Monday in suit against railroad over women’s deaths"

  1. Mom of lots   March 7, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Um, I’m sorry, but I do not believe the train company to be responsible for this and I hope the jury finds likewise. Had these women not been highly intoxicated, they would have at least stepped back from the vehicle hearing the oncoming train or not gotten stuck in the first place. This young woman was drunk driving. I am dismayed at parents suing the train company as this will not do anything for the well being of their daughter(s). $?

  2. Mike   March 8, 2013 at 4:57 am

    How did this even make it into a court of law ?

  3. MP73point4   March 8, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Since the women were wasted, I guess the families think the court’s time should be wasted too.

  4. Doc Bentley.   March 9, 2013 at 7:04 am

    This a BIG waste of time and money. The train DID NOT leave the track to hit the vehicle or women ! If the DRUNK women had crashed on the freeway, would CalDot ? Get real people. Money will not bring back the dead !

  5. Nimz   March 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Obviously all of these comments are written by Government Drones. Don’t talk about these girls like you know them. These girls were loved by their family and they were both honor roll students.

    The poor girl

  6. Jerry   March 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Oh for Heavens Sakes! How STUPID can we get? First of all, a train can weigh thousands of tons. You “experts” think that a train’s brakes can work magic. Well, they CAN’T. Secondly, tell us your REAL expertise on railroad operating rules, the status of train crews and whether a crew is “asleep”. What the H… do you know about “basic railroad governing operations”? I’d bet you couldn’t quote even ONE FRA operating rule. Let’s see, a car drives up onto the tracks and stalls(?) They are drinking (twice the legal limit wouldn’t make them impaired? C’mon). Next the people get out and, and apparently (by the story) are fouling the RoW attempting to FLAG the train & expecting that a train can stop on a dime. REALLY??????????????

    Poor judgment + alcohol=disaster. A driver IS MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY OF HIS VEHICLE AND PASSENGERS. Trains can neither stop on a dime, nor can they dodge out of the way. Yes, this is tragic loss of life, BUT-IT-IS-NOT-THE-FAULT-OF-UNION-PACIFIC. Trust me, it is a horrible feeling to hit someone; I know–I’ve been in the engine when people made idiotic decisions, went around gates, ignored flashing lights and whistles. And then people expect the railroad to have to pay for THE VICTIM’S OWN ERROR. Sorry, this is not the fault of UP;they shouldn’t have to pay a CENT

  7. NS   March 30, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Nimz, you’re an idiot who has clearly demonstrated you know nothing about trains. It takes the average freight train one mile to stop, even WITH emergency brakes. Even if they were able to see the cars flashers, nothing could’ve been done because they would have been still too close. Comment again when you have ACTUAL FACTS. The only thing that could’ve prevented this was if they weren’t drunk behind the wheel of their car. UP and BNSF don’t have anything to do with it. UP is the victim here, not those two girls.

  8. Government Drones   April 12, 2013 at 7:45 am

    As a former railroad conductor, I’m begging you, with tears in my eyes, please, please, DO NOT think for one moment that a train can stop in time to keep from hitting you. Railroads are granted an exclusive right of way by the federal government and they must operate with the expectation that their right of way is free of obstructions and trespassers. The reason that the flashing lights and crossing gates block the HIGHWAY traffic at a grade crossing instead of blocking the train traffic is because the stopping distance for a train is HUNDREDS of times the stopping distance for a car or truck. When there is a collision between a train and a car, the train wins every time. If your car is stalled on the railroad tracks, GET OUT OF YOUR CAR AND GET AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE.

    In this particular case, the car did not "get stuck on the tracks", it got there because it’s driver put it there. Yes, grade crossing accidents do happen a lot, because some people just don’t learn their lesson when they hear about other people being killed by a train when they were on the railroad tracks. You may think that you’re dead right, but you’ll still be dead, right?

    I’m sure that the hard working crew members of that train are loved by their families too, now they all have to suffer the emotional distress and trauma that was caused by the 2 fools who didn’t have enough sense to leave the area when the train approached. They probably have also suffered financially due to lost work and medical expenses, as well has having to appear in court for a frivilous lawsuit. I hope that the crew members are able to recover fully and to return to work. They should sue the families of the 2 women who caused their pain and suffering.

    As far as the railroads are concerned, they should persue legal action against the estates of the 2 women who caused the wreck (it wasn’t an "accident", it was stupidity) to recover expenses for damage to equipment, loss of operating time, and for legal fees.

  9. Bill Brakeman   April 15, 2013 at 8:56 am

    DO NOT think for one moment that a train can stop in time to keep from hitting you. The idea that a train should be able to stop in time to


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