2 Sheriff's Officers Sue Over Train Derailment

Two sheriff’s department employees filed a lawsuit Monday alleging the rail company ignored red light signals when the company’s freight train derailed, spilling a hazardous chemical in the southern New Jersey town of Paulsboro.

At the time of the November 2012 accident, Philip DePietro III and Alexander Molnar were employed by the Gloucester County Sheriff’s Department and responded to the scene of the derailment and bridge collapse, according to the federal complaint filed in Camden County. 

The pair claim Conrail and parent companies CSX and Norfolk Southern acted negligently by allowing the train to proceed across the bridge, even though a green light had yet to indicate the bridge was properly locked and ready for rail cars to pass.

The lawsuit also says the transportation company was aware of unsafe conditions on the bridge when the freight train carrying vinyl chloride monomer, a potent human carcinogen, crossed.

“By operating long freight trains containing loads of hazardous and toxic substances over a bridge known to be faulty and defective, [the defendants] caused great peril to first responders,” according to the complaint.

Matthew Weng, an attorney with Bridgeton, N.J.-based Chance & McCann representing DePietro and Molnar, did not name the dollar amount sought by his clients. 

“Our concern is if anything serious happens to any of these first responders in the future,” Weng said.

The suit is the latest in the mounting litigation Conrail faces following the Paulsboro bridge collapse.

In August 2013, 15 first responders filed a separate lawsuit alleging Conrail failed to disclose the dangers of the chemical released.  Businesses and residents of Paulsboro are also suing the rail companies.

Four tank cars plunged into Mantua Creek and one ruptured on Nov. 30, 2012, when the bridge they were crossing collapsed. More than a dozen people were hospitalized with respiratory problems at the time.  The vinyl chloride released from the car is a known carcinogen and has been linked to a variety of health problems ranging from difficulty breathing to liver cancer.

Conrail spokesman Michael Hotra said the company will respond in court.

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