NOBLE, Okla. (KFOR) – An Oklahoma family is suing the BNSF Railway company after a family member died from a heart attack while the emergency vehicles coming to his aid were stuck behind a train at the only entrance to their street.
According to the lawsuit, the conductor wouldn’t move the train during the incident. While railway companies can’t be fined for blocking the tracks, the attorneys said they feel they have to do everything they can when a person’s life is on the line.
Larry Gene Byrd died of a heart attack in September 2020. His son, Chad Byrd, raised concerns with KFOR about the crossing in 2015.
“I think it’s going to take a major tragedy for the railroad company to wake up and decide that they’re going to do something,” Chad Byrd said in June 2015, joining others saying that the trains blocking the tracks were a problem six and a half years ago. “I think the major concern is if somebody’s injured, trying to get an ambulance to that side.”
Chad Byrd’s premonitions would become a reality when his father died.
Now, the Noble family is claiming the train is the cause of their loved one’s death. At the time, those tracks were sitting on the only crossing to get to their home.
“It’s unbelievably tragic,” said Timothy Gaarder, an attorney for the Byrd family.
Gaarder is now representing the family in the lawsuit against BNSF Railway, the owner of the tracks and the train blocking the road at the time.
The lawsuit states that numerous calls were made to Noble police regarding a train blocking an area for over two hours. When emergency crews arrived, police asked the conductor if the train could be moved. He said no. The lawsuit added that the conductor then “closed the locomotives window and would not respond to any further questions.”
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“I think we all believe and hope and expect that if and when we need emergency services, they’ll be able to get to us,” Gaarder said.
A law allowing authorities to fine railway companies for blocking the tracks was struck down by a federal judge. However, Gaarder said the focus of their lawsuit is an Oklahoma law that reads, “Every railroad shall be opened in such a manner as to minimize obstruction of emergency vehicles at public grade crossings.” He added that he and the family feel the railway companies have to do everything they can when a life is at risk.
“They want to know why everything in the world wasn’t done to try to get that care to their loved one,” Gaarder said about the Byrd family.
KFOR reached out to BNSF for comment. They called back and left a voicemail saying they couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Assistant City Manager Robert Porton said the tracks were a critical public safety issue.
“That has been the longstanding issue with that intersection and one that hasn’t particularly improved until somewhat recently,” Porton said.
In early June, the city opened up another access point south of that area after going through a condemnation process.
“Ever since that was opened up, I don’t believe we’ve had any complications with public safety reaching those people on the other side,” Porton said.