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Final lawsuits filed in Fort Totten Metro crash

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Photo - Candida Carver, left, the aunt of Ana Fernandez -- who was killed in the Fort Totten Metro crash -- and Ana's son Antonio, right, stands on a bridge overlooking the site of the crash on the two-year anniversary in June 2011. (Examiner file photo)
Candida Carver, left, the aunt of Ana Fernandez -- who was killed in the Fort Totten Metro crash -- and Ana's son Antonio, right, stands on a bridge overlooking the site of the crash on the two-year anniversary in June 2011. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Friday marks a painful anniversary for the families of those who died in the Fort Totten Metro crash three years ago.

But for the people who were on one of the two trains that day, it also marks the deadline for when they can sue the transit agency and three equipment manufacturers that have been blamed for the deadly crash.

The District has a three-year statute of limitations that ends at the three-year anniversary. At least nine people have filed lawsuits in the past few months, court records show.

Gray to unveil Fort Totten Metro crash memorial plaque
D.C. officials will dedicate a plaque to the victims of the 2009 Metro crash on Friday, the third anniversary of the deadly train crash that killed nine people and injured dozens more.
But a planned memorial park remains unresolved after neighbors near the crash site raised concerns, including the fear that the park would attract teens having sex.
Mayor Vincent Gray had pledged at the second anniversary to help make things right after victims' families had complained that a memorial that Metro had installed at the Fort Totten Metro stop was insensitive. The families sought a park where victims' children could visit.
But Gray is not slated to make any announcements Friday about the park that family members have sought, said Tony Robinson, a spokesman for the City Administrator's Office.
"We haven't made any decision about the park," Robinson said. "We have a locally preferred alternative and that's it."
In an effort to shorten the event due to the forecast of hot weather, the city also will not be announcing the finalist chosen in an art/design competition for the park, he said.
But on Friday, Gray is slated to be joined by National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman and victims' families as he unveils the permanent plaque at 11 a.m. on the New Hampshire Avenue bridge overlooking the tracks where one train slammed into the back of a stopped train on June 22, 2009. Currently, a makeshfit memorial is maintained there by the families.

On June 22, 2009, a Red Line train crashed into a stopped train outside the Fort Totten station, shearing off the top of some of the rail cars. Nine people inside the lead car of the moving train were killed. An estimated 80 more riders were injured, some with devastating trauma.

Lawsuits were filed before few details were even known about what went wrong that day.

A subsequent National Transportation Safety Board investigation determined the safety equipment that was supposed to prevent the two trains from hitting each other malfunctioned, sending off a bad signal that made the stopped train invisible to the oncoming train. The investigation also showed a culture full of safety problems at the transit agency, which had been ignoring warning alarms on the system amid myriad other issues.

Eventually about 20 lawsuits were filed, with the cases of the nine victims' families consolidated and handled together in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

This winter, as The Washington Examiner first reported, Metro, Alstom Signaling, Ansaldo STS USA and ARINC settled most of the cases in confidential settlements.

But in doing so, they also stipulated to liability in the remaining cases to avoid significant risks and costs that would come with hashing out the issues in court. That was the first public admission of any wrongdoing.

The admission and the settlements opened the gates for those who had been waiting on the sidelines to file cases. But they had to race against the clock as the June 22 deadline loomed.

The legal wrangling is not over. As recently as Tuesday, court records show, Metro was filing cross-claims against the manufacturers about who would have to pay remaining claims.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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