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An Amtrak passenger train left Chicago, Illinois, heading southbound with a final destination of New Orleans, Louisiana. This train, known as the “City of New Orleans,” carried 206 passengers and 23 crew members. It consisted of two locomotives pulling 14 cars, and was operating on tracks owned and maintained by the Illinois Central Railroad Company.
At around 9:46 p.m., the City of New Orleans entered the village of Bourbonnais, Illinois. Around the time the City of New Orleans was entering the village of Bourbonnais, a tractor trailer truck, owned and operated by Melco Transfer, Inc. was leaving the Birmingham Steel plant. The truck, driven by John Stokes, was carrying close to 400 steel reinforcing (“rebar”) bars. These 60-foot long rods overhung 7 feet from the rear of the trailer. As the truck began to traverse the crossing, the City of New Orleans was approaching the crossing at 79 m.p.h. Just as the tractor trailer was partway through the crossing, the Amtrak train violently struck it, hitting the trailer’s rearmost axle on the left side.
Many of the victims and their survivors filed lawsuits agianst Amtrak, Illinois Central, and Melco Transfer in both state and federal courts in Chicago, Illinois. As with all mass disaster litigation, the lawsuits were consolidated before a single judge in both the Cook County State Court and the Federal Court. Judge Matthew Kennely presided over the consolidated actions in federal court and Judge Evans presided over the consolidated actions in state court. Attorneys Jamie R. Lebovitz and David M. Paris were two of just a handful of lawyers from around the United States appointed by Judges Evans and Kennelly as members of the steering committee to conduct the litigation on behalf of the victims and their families.