Local News

Cary widow sues Amtrak, rail operator after train kills husband

Posted July 14, 2011 11:35 a.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2011 6:11 p.m. EDT

— The widow of a Cary man who died two years ago after his car was hit by an Amtrak train at a Raleigh rail crossing has sued Amtrak and the operator of the rail line.

Nanette Daniels is seeking $450,000 in damages from Amtrak's parent, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., and CSX Transportation Inc., which owns and maintains the rail line.

"I decided to sue because facts came to light regarding my husband's death that have never before been investigated," Nanette Daniels said in a statement to WRAL News. "My goal is to ensure that no one has to die the way Jack died."

Jack Milton Daniels, 60, was killed on June 9, 2009, when he drove onto the crossing near Royal and Hillsborough streets and his Toyota Solara was hit by a train traveling from Charlotte to New York.

Police said Daniels ignored the flashing signal at the crossing and appeared to stop his car in the middle of the crossing.

Investigators told family members that Daniels had committed suicide, but friends and relatives say that theory is wrong.

"No way. Jack would never commit suicide," longtime friend Jerry Hart said. "He loved his wife and daughter way too much to end a life like that."

The lawsuit, filed last month in federal court in Raleigh, alleges that the safety arms malfunctioned at the crossing. The arms dropped and then went back up, allowing Jack Daniels to drive onto the crossing, before they dropped again and trapped him, according to the suit.

"There is an established history of issues with said safety gates pursuant to witness testimony," the suit states.

Some people who work in the area near the track and drive along the intersection said shortly after the fatal crash that the railroad crossing bar there had malfunctioned periodically.

A representative for CSX said at the time that it appeared the arms were working on the morning of the crash and that there had been no recent reports of issues at the crossing.

According to the suit, CSX workers replaced the safety arms the day after Jack Daniels was killed and told Nanette Daniels that the crossing was scheduled for maintenance.

The suit also alleges that the Amtrak engineer had a known degenerative eye disease.

"Failing eyesight contributed to the engineer's inability to apply brakes prior to striking (Daniels') car," the suit states.

The Solara was pushed about 75 feet before being thrown off the tracks.

The Danielses owned and ran the Jack Daniels Grocery Store on Jones Franklin Road for decades. Family members said Jack Daniels was on his way to make an inventory pickup when he died.

"Jack was the backbone, the soul of the whole business," Hart said.

Friends and relatives now sport bumper stickers on their vehicles in honor of Daniels: "Take care at railroad crossings, because the train won't."

Nanette Daniels said she would donate the lion's share of any judgment to diabetes research efforts since he husband suffered from the disease.