Seattle Transportation Agencies to Pay $6.5 Million for Fatal Light Rail Crash

Three Seattle transportation agencies have agreed to pay the families of a couple killed when a light rail train hit them as they made their way to a Mariners baseball game.

Seattle light rail

ByCarolyn Casey, J.D.

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Published on February 13, 2024

Seattle light rail

What Happened?

On July 2, 2022, a retired couple en route to a game at T-Mobile Park, observed a northbound train arrive at the Martin Luther King Jr. Way South station platform of Seattle’s Columbia City Station. The train was to the right of Emoke Rock, 76, and Steven Wayne, 66, two huge baseball fans waiting to cross the median to catch another train. After seeing the northbound train stop, they stepped out onto the median trackway to cross when tragedy struck. The couple had not seen a southbound train approaching on their left – both died after that train struck them.

Ms. Rock had been a schoolteacher and real estate broker. Mr. Wayne was a real estate broker. The couple, who met late in life, were “known for being community-minded, cheerful, and for their love for each other”.

The station where the couple died is one of three in Ranier Valley with above-ground rail tracks. The other stations have below-ground or elevated tracks. Metro operates the trains, while the Seattle transportation department operates traffic and pedestrian signals.

Allegations and Defenses

The families of the couple filed a negligence lawsuit against Sound Transit (regional transportation system), King County Metro Transit, the Seattle Department of Transportation, (Transportation Department), and the train operator. Plaintiffs alleged that this area of the Sound Transit’s trackway where trains run along the street is a hazard. The families stated that pedestrian safety features like crossing arms were absent.

Their attorney, James S. Rogers of the Law Offices of James S. Rogers, noted that the transportation agencies were aware that trains had hit and nearly hit pedestrians but did not incorporate sufficient protections. Swing gates that people operate by hand and automated gates that block the walkways when trains approach, should have been in place.

In a court filing, the Transportation Department stated that Rock and Wayne attempted a late crossing in front of the train despite the active no-walk and train warning signals.

Rogers countered in a later interview that walking on red signals was the result of a known design flaw. Due to long cycles between walk signals at this intersection, neighbors often cross during the red signal, he added.

Transportation Agencies Settle

Attorneys for the plaintiffs and the transportation agencies filed a settlement notice on January 2, 2024, in King County Superior Court. The document indicates that the parties have settled all claims. The trial was scheduled to start in late January.

The agencies will collectively pay the $6.5 million settlement. It is not clear how much each agency will pay under the settlement. A Sound Transit spokesperson stated that the settlement does not amount to an admission of liability. Nor is there mention of any pledges concerning safety measures.

Rogers believes this is the first court case and settlement payout involving a fatal Sound Transit train incident. Sound Transit did not confirm if there were others.

“We believe it could have been prevented, and we hope changes are made,” Rogers said.

A History of Trains Striking People

In 2023, Sound Transit’s safety team reported that light rail trains struck 11 pedestrians and 30 motor vehicles from 2020 to 2022. The Columbia City Station crash is Seattle’s only double fatality light rail collision. A single death did occur in 2013 as a man walked toward Rainier Beach Station.

After the deaths in this case, Sound Transit put in flashing signs warning of “another train coming” at Rainier Valley stations. Steps taken also included the installation of louder train horns, station warning bells, and railroad-crossing pavement markings for drivers. The agency also placed the swing gates Attorney Rogers described at another station infamous for frequent near hits and collisions.

In two weeks, a Sound Transit committee will hear a safety update that covers conditions in Rainier Valley.

About the author

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Carolyn Casey is a seasoned professional with extensive experience in legal tech, e-discovery, and legal content creation. As Principal of WritMarketing, she combines her decade of Big Law experience with two decades in software leadership to provide strategic consulting in product strategy, content, and messaging for legal tech clients. Previously, Carolyn served as Legal Content Writer for Expert Institute, Sr. Director of Industry Relations at AccessData, and Director of Product Marketing at Zapproved, focusing on industry trends in forensic investigations, compliance, privacy, and e-discovery. Her career also includes roles at Iron Mountain as Head of Legal Product Management and Sr. Product Marketing Manager, where she led product and marketing strategies for legal services, and at Fios Inc as Sr. Marketing Manager, specializing in eDiscovery solutions.

Her early legal expertise was honed at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, where she developed legal strategies for mergers, acquisitions, and international finance matters. Carolyn's education includes a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law, where she was a Senior Editor for the International Law Journal and participated in a pioneering China Summer Law Program. She also holds an AB in Political Science with a minor in art history from Stanford University. Her diverse skill set encompasses research, creative writing, copy editing, and a deep understanding of legal product marketing and international legal trends.