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Lawsuits over Crozet train wreck set for trial in 2021
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Lawsuits over Crozet train wreck set for trial in 2021

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Crozet Amtrak train crash

Crews begin clearing the scene where an Amtrak passenger train crashed into a garbage truck in Crozet on Jan. 31, 2018.

Four passengers of a train that struck a garbage truck in Crozet in 2018 will face the driver in court during separate civil trials next year.

Soon after the crash, Dana Naylor Jr. was charged with involuntary manslaughter and maiming while under the influence after authorities alleged he drove a Time Disposal garbage truck onto train tracks on Jan. 31, 2018, leading to the collision that killed Chris Foley and severely injured Dennis Eddy, both passengers in the truck.

Because the train had been carrying a Republican congressional delegation, the incident quickly drew national attention.

Naylor was found not guilty during a 2019 criminal trial in Albemarle County Circuit Court, but has been targeted by at least eight lawsuits since the crash.

Four of the most recent lawsuits come from passengers on the train and name Naylor as a defendant, along with Time Disposal LLC; Buckingham Branch Railroad Co.; and Robert Shawn Young, the conductor of the Amtrak train.

The train was carrying dozens of Republican members of Congress to a retreat in West Virginia when it crashed. None of the four recent plaintiffs — Andrew Bruot, Michael Condron, Frank Cottone and Andrew Ripetta — is a legislator. The four are being represented by counsel from Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.

Earlier this month, the four each received separate trial dates scheduled between Sept. 1, 2021, and Nov 18, 2021. Each trial is scheduled to last two days. It is unclear from court filings why the plaintiffs opted for separate trials despite filing virtually identical complaints.

The lawsuits allege negligence on behalf of the defendant and request $750,000 in compensatory damages from the defendants collectively and $350,000 in punitive damages from Naylor.

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None of the initial complaints describes specific injuries or names the complainants’ job positions beyond being passengers on the train. The injuries are cited as being “permanent” and “severe.”

The suits’ claims largely follow a National Transportation Safety Board report from last year that found Naylor drove the truck around lowered crossing gate arms and onto the tracks, where it was struck by the train.

The report also notes the presence of marijuana in a lunchbox within the cabin of the truck, found after the crash, and that Naylor’s blood tested positive for the active ingredient in marijuana.

Both pieces of evidence were thrown out of Naylor’s criminal trial by an Albemarle circuit judge due to the uncertainty of current testing.

“At and during the time Defendant Naylor was using drugs, he could have reasonably foreseen with the exercise of reasonable care that his ability to operate a motor vehicle would be impaired,” the complaints read.

The lawsuits also claim Young took too long to engage the brake, waiting until the train was just a few seconds away from the trash truck. During the trial, Young testified that he began to blow the train’s whistle as soon as the truck came into view and then attempted to stop the locomotive.

Buckingham Branch is accused within the complaints of failing to comply with federal standards of care and that it should have been aware of prior signal malfunctions, as noted in the NTSB’s investigation. Time Disposal, Naylor’s employer at the time, is accused of failing to conduct regular safety meetings.

Two other lawsuits — including one originally set for trial this year — have reached settlements. Clinton Boyea, a service attendant on the train, and Young both settled the lawsuits on undisclosed terms in April and February of this year, respectively.

The only remaining lawsuit, filed on behalf of Leonard Claytor, was filed in January and has had no movement since.

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