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Grieving families sue Tacoma, saying city’s neglect led to two deaths at train crossing

Jennifer and Cale Tyler
Jennifer and Cale Tyler

The families of two Tacomans killed a year apart at the same railroad crossing have sued the city, alleging its neglect led to the fatalities.

Cale Tyler, 31, and Alexandria Lewis, 28, were killed by Amtrak trains at the crossing near Ruston Way and McCarver Street, in each case just after a freight train had passed in the opposite direction.

Tyler was hit while on a run Nov. 19, 2015; Lewis was killed Nov. 18, 2016, while returning from a break to the Old Town law office where the mother of two worked.

“Among the hazards of the crossing are trains that pass by it, sometimes simultaneously and at high speed from opposite directions, which can create the illusion to a pedestrian that the complete passing of one train means the crossing is safe to cross, when in fact another train is approaching,” each family’s lawsuit reads.

Spouses Jennifer Tyler and Leland Lewis filed the complaints in Pierce County Superior Court early this month, both of which seek unspecified damages.

Before the deaths, the lawsuits state, “The City made no attempt to prohibit pedestrians from using this dangerous railroad crossing, or to redirect pedestrians to a safe path over the railroad right of way. To the contrary, the City funneled pedestrians into this crossing.”

A city spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending litigation.

After the second fatality, the city took short-term steps to improve safety at the crossing, including installing warning signs.

It also got a $50,000 grant in October from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which will help pay for $300,000 in safety improvements. The must be finished by April for the city to keep the grant.

A statement Friday from the Public Works Department said permanent fencing on the western side of McCarver Street was installed at the end of November, and fencing on the eastern side will come later.

Pedestrian signals and gate arms are to be designed, procured and installed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The goal is for a construction agreement between the city and BNSF to be finalized soon, so work can be finished by April.

The lawsuits suggest an overpass at the crossing should be the long-term solution.

“Only after the multiple deaths at the dangerous railroad crossing has the City started to exercise its own powers and duties to provide safe streets, which includes protecting its residents and visitors from death, rather than effectively requiring them to use this deceptive, deadly railroad crossing to access and return from the waterfront on foot,” both complaints state.

“This has included acknowledgment that due to the heavy pedestrian traffic in the area, a pedestrian overpass is needed, and that, in the interim, the City should place an appropriate pedestrian warning sign and physical barrier upon the sidewalk.”

The Public Works Department said the city has no plans for an overpass at this time, but added, “It’s possible some sort of overpass could be discussed as part of a long-term master plan” for Ruston Way.

Leland Lewis was unavailable for comment on the lawsuit concerning his wife’s death.

Jennifer Tyler had been married to her husband about 15 months when he died. Since then, she has moved out of state to be closer to her family.

“He deserved better,” she told The News Tribune in an interview.

The waterfront, she said, is what drew them to live in North Tacoma.

They traveled together constantly, and while on one vacation, her husband would be planning the next, Tyler said.

“It’s almost like something was pushing us to go and do and see,” she added. “When you think 10 seconds could have changed everything, it’s a horrible thought.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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