RIVERSIDE – Jury selection is slated to begin a week from today in a civil trial to resolve claims of negligence against Union Pacific Railroad in connection with the deaths of a driver and her passenger, who were struck by a train when she drove onto railroad tracks in Riverside.
The families of 23-year-old Renee Ammari and 18-year-old Tanya Sayegh, both of San Bernardino, sued Union Pacific, alleging the crew driving an 86-car train that smashed into the victims in the predawn hours of Nov. 1, 2007, did not take the actions necessary to prevent the accident.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters has scheduled trial proceedings to get under way on Feb. 28.
Ammari and Sayegh were struck after Ammari drove her black 1996 Honda Passport SUV onto tracks crossing Mission Inn Avenue.
According to a Riverside County Coroner’s Office 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. and headed 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.
Around 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 timely applied the emergency brakes,” the families’ attorney, Ron Makarem, alleged. “Their negligent actions resulted in the deaths of two young women.”
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages from Union Pacific, which did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
The families also sued BNSF and the city of Riverside, but those cases were dismissed, according to court records.