Family files wrongful death lawsuit against Capital Metro, train operator and city

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A family in California has filed a wrongful death lawsuit after their daughter, Erica Findley, died in February 2018 while visiting Austin.

“It’s just… it’s just a nightmare really,” said her father, Kevin Findley. “She was very much a people person her whole life. Just a really magnetic personality. Always was that way.”

According to attorneys representing the Findley family, Erica was hit in the head by a Capital Metro train’s side panel while walking on East 5th Street. She died three days later.

They said that area is “extra-hazardous.”

“This case is really about public safety,” said David Wenholz, the attorney who filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges “there are no sidewalks in this area, pedestrians are forced to walk either in lanes of vehicular traffic or immediately adjacent to train tracks.”

  • Wrongful death lawsuit, Erica Findley
  • Wrongful death lawsuit, Erica Findley
  • Wrongful death lawsuit, Erica Findley

Wenholz told KXAN Erica and her friend were walking in the 1600 block of East 5th Street between Chicon and Comal Streets.

In that block, there’s a sidewalk on one side of the street, but it ends after about 670 feet, which is about a halfway point between Chicon and Comal.

Once the sidewalk ends, pedestrians have to walk in the street. The other side doesn’t have any sidewalks. It has CapMetro’s train tracks.

Wenholz said that half that has no sidewalks on either side was where Erica and her friend were walking.

When Erica was hit, Kevin said there was no warning sign — no horn, no bells and not enough lighting. The train came up from behind her.

“Having a train darting down a busy street with no protection for pedestrians is just really inconceivable,” he said. “I’ve gone through a lot with you know, ‘Why? Why my daughter?'”

He went on to explain, “To have her be gone that way is just horribly shocking, particularly given the circumstances.”

When asked why he decided to take this legal action, Kevin said, “I didn’t want anything like that to happen to anyone else. Erica would not want anyone else’s family to go through this.”

Wenholz told KXAN he obtained city officials’ emails through a Public Information Request. He said they talk about the need for safety improvements. “It appears clearly after the accident that they thought about it, they considered many options, and it doesn’t appear as though any of those options has been implemented.”

“Hopefully this will bring attention to the problem, and somebody in charge there in Austin will figure this out so that no one else has to go through this,” Kevin said.

Capital Metro and the City of Austin told KXAN they have not been served with the lawsuit, yet.

City officials said their condolences go out to the family, but the city is not liable.

2,500 miles of missing sidewalks in Austin

At this time, Public Works said there is not a plan to add sidewalks in that part of East 5th Street.

The department, however, completed a new sidewalk project along E. 5th Street from N. Pleasant Valley Road to Pedernales Street in September 2019. They’ve also rehabilitated E. 6th Street from Interstate 35 to Calles Street in 2012.

This map from the City of Austin shows where there are missing sidewalks. According to the Sidewalk Master Plan, Austin is missing 2,500 miles of sidewalks.

City map shows streets with missing sidewalks. (Courtesy City of Austin)

Last year, Public Works spent more than $14 million to build 13 miles of new sidewalks and repair 6 miles. Since 2011, the city has added a total of 142 miles of sidewalks.

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