November 21, 2014

Medina
Partly cloudy
19°F

Brunswick families suing counties over fatal crash are suing Ohio too

In addition to a lawsuit filed against two counties and two townships and a railroad company, the families of three Brunswick students killed in a crash two years ago on Boston Road also are suing the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The June 3, 2012, crash killed Brunswick High school students Blake Bartchak, 17, Lexi Poerner, 16, Kevin Fox, 18, and the driver, Jeffrey Chaya, 18. Julia Romito, a fifth student traveling in the car, survived.

These four teenagers were killed in a June 2012 crash. On top are Blake Bartchak and Jeffrey Chaya. On bottom are Lexi Poerner and Kevin Fox. All four were students at Brunswick High School.

These four teenagers were killed in a June 2012 crash. On top are Blake Bartchak and Jeffrey Chaya. On bottom are Lexi Poerner and Kevin Fox. All four were students at Brunswick High School.

On Monday, the families of Bartchak, Poerner and Fox filed a wrongful death suit in the Ohio Court of Claims, naming ODOT as a defendant.

The three families also are suing CSX Corporation, Columbia and Liverpool township trustees and the commissioners and engineers in Lorain and Medina counties. That suit also was filed Monday in Lorain County Common Pleas Court.

Both suits allege the government entities were aware of a dangerous situation at the crossing, which straddles the boundary of Lorain and Medina counties.

“They are of course separate filings, but they’re filed in conjunction with one another,” said Howard Skolnick, an attorney for the families.

Skolnick said the three families have already reached a settlement with the family of Chaya, who was driving the night of the crash.

The Poerner, Bartchak and Fox families each received $100,000 in insurance payments following the crash, according to the Medina County Probate Court, which approved the settlement in November. Skolnick said the settlement was one of the reasons Chaya is not named in the lawsuits filed on Monday.

“Our clients’ claims as to Mr. Chaya have already been resolved through his insurance company,” he said.

Skolnick said authorities — including ODOT — knew of the hazards of the steep grade near the railroad tracks on Boston Road in Liverpool Township.

“ODOT had a duty to provide the public with safe highways, to maintain its roadways, berms and culverts and right of ways in a reasonably safe condition for the motoring public and to keep its roadways berms, culverts and right of ways free from nuisance and hazardous conditions,” according to the lawsuit.

The Ohio Highway Patrol determined that Chaya’s Chevrolet Cavalier was traveling at 69 mph when it crossed the tracks, went airborne and crashed into a culvert and flipped over.

The posted speed limit where the crash occurred was 55 mph. After the crash, the Ohio Department of Transportation conducted a speed study and lowered the speed limit to 45 mph.

Warning signs just ahead of the crossing recommending a speed of 25 miles per hour were also added to the tracks. Last year, ODOT spent $450,000 on a safety overhaul of the crossing which included smoothing the grade at the crossing. Local governments contributed 10 percent of the project cost.

Skolnick said the improvements made at the roadway were long overdue, charging that officials had known the railroad crossing was a potential hazard for years. In 2006, a Brunswick man was killed when his car went off the road as he headed westbound on Boston Road over the railroad tracks. The Ohio State Highway Patrol said speed was a factor in that crash.

“The Bartchak, Fox and Poerner families are committed to making sure that when safety hazards on our roads are indentified, they are fixed long before they result in such devastating consequences,” Skolnick said.

Skolnick said his clients hope that their suit will encourage local governments to move faster to repair dangerous railway crossings in the future.

“If even one life is saved by forcing the authorities to evaluate the local crossings, then this lawsuit will have been worth it,” he said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or at lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorengenson.