In a devastating accident that unfolded on the evening of September 23, 2023, a freight train collided with an SUV in Hillsborough County, Florida, claiming the lives of six people, three of whom were children. The information was confirmed by Hillsborough County police in a subsequent news briefing.
The crash site presented a harrowing scene that left even seasoned first responders visibly shaken. Sheriff Chronister likened the crumpled state of the Cadillac Escalade SUV to a "soft drink can that’s been smashed." The vehicle was reportedly carrying seven people to a quinceañera celebration when the collision occurred.
Analysis of video footage from the train's front camera suggests that the SUV driver approached the crossing and proceeded without taking the basic precaution of stopping to observe incoming traffic from both directions. According to witnesses, the train's conductor made a desperate attempt to decelerate and initiated a series of long horn blasts and light flashes as a last-minute warning. A bystander near the tracks also honked his car's horn in a futile attempt to alert the SUV driver to the imminent danger.
The impact was nothing short of catastrophic. The footage showed the SUV being hurled into the air, flipping multiple times before landing a significant distance from the railroad crossing. Emergency responders arrived on the scene shortly before 7 p.m.
The driver and the front-seat passenger were extracted from the mangled vehicle and transported to Lakeland Regional Hospital, where they were listed in "critical and serious condition." Tragically, their condition deteriorated, and the driver later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital, according to a Sheriff’s office spokesperson.
The other occupants of the SUV were not as fortunate. All five were ejected with such force from the vehicle that they were pronounced dead at the scene. The deceased were identified as Julian Hernandez, aged 9; Jakub A. Lopez, 17; Alyssa Hernandez, 17; Anaelia Hernandez, 22; Enedelia Hernandez, 51; and Jose G. Hernandez, 52.
The area where the tragedy unfolded lacks a level crossing with arms to prevent cars from proceeding when a train is approaching. Instead, the crossing is marked merely with a stop sign and railroad crossing indicator. It’s not a heavily frequented area, and it only serves only a handful of homes.
Railway company CSX confirmed its train's involvement in the accident. In a statement, the company expressed its deepest sympathies to those affected and pledged full cooperation with the ongoing investigation. None of the train’s crew members were injured.
This grim event has shattered a community and triggered questions about the adequacy of safety measures at railroad crossings. While investigators work to untangle the complexities of this tragic incident, a cloud of sorrow hangs over Hillsborough County as it mourns the loss this family has experienced.
What to Do If You're Injured in a Train Accident in Florida
While one can only hope to never find themselves involved in a train accident, it's crucial to know the steps to take should such you ever get in a collision involving a train. These accidents often involve serious injuries, and the insurance issues can be quite complex. Here are some essential actions to consider taking if you or a loved one is injured in a train accident in Florida:
1. Seek Immediate Medical Attention
The first priority after any accident is always your health and safety. Whether the injuries are apparent or not, get medical assistance as soon as possible. Prompt documentation of your injuries can be crucial for any ensuing legal actions because, like a report, it provides objective information about how and when you suffered injuries.
2. Report the Incident
Ensure that the accident is reported to the relevant authorities. Filing an official report with the police or transit authorities helps establish a record of the incident. This can be very valuable later on when you pursue a personal injury claim.
3. Collect Evidence and Information
If possible, collect all pertinent details at the scene. This includes the names and contact information of witnesses, photographs of your injuries and damages, and any other evidence that could help substantiate your claim. Using your phone to take pictures and videos is a quick and easy way to gather useful evidence.
4. Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
Railroad and train accidents involve complicated legal issues and multiple parties, such as the train operator, the railroad company, and potentially others. An attorney with experience in personal injury or specifically, railroad accidents, can offer invaluable assistance. Our Orlando personal injury lawyers handle catastrophic injury cases across Florida.
5. Keep Records of Everything
Document every aspect of your recovery and losses. This should include medical bills, lost wages, and any other expenses or impacts on your life due to the accident. Your attorney can use these records to build a compelling case for compensation.
6. Be Cautious When Dealing with Insurance Companies
You may be contacted by insurance adjusters for recorded statements or to talk to you about the incident. Understand that they are aiming to minimize your compensation or deny liability; they’re not trying to help you, and they’re not worried about you. Thus, you should consider consulting with your attorney before giving any statements or accepting any settlements from insurance companies.
7. File a Claim
Your personal injury attorney will guide you through the complex legal process, which may include filing a lawsuit against responsible parties. Due to the intricacies of laws governing railroads, multiple defendants may be involved.
8. Seek Support and Resources
The aftermath of a train accident can be emotionally traumatizing. Don't hesitate to seek psychological support or counseling services to help cope with the emotional and psychological aspects of recovery.The legal and procedural maze following a train accident in Florida can be overwhelming. Understanding the basic steps of the personal injury process and getting legal help can go a long way in ensuring that you receive the compensation you are entitled to for your injuries and losses.