The family of a young Waterloo farmer who died when he was struck by a train while driving a tractor near Fults in June 2019 filed a wrongful death lawsuit Feb. 25 in St. Clair County.
In the suit, attorneys for David Matthews, father of the late Jonah Matthews, allege that “negligent and careless acts or omissions” resulted in Jonah’s death.
The lawsuit was filed against Glendell H. Farms, Ken Hartman, Anita Hartman, Joann Hartman and Union Pacific Railroad Company, with the attorneys seeking damages in excess of $50,000 from each of those individuals or entities.
The filing states the Hartmans own, manage or are employees of Glendell Farms.
“We think the claims speak for themselves,” said Troy Walton, the Edwardsville-based attorney for the Matthews family. “Our belief is that had Glendell Farms and the railroad taken the reasonable and necessary steps, this accident and death were certainly avoidable.”
The crash occurred the evening of June 14, 2019 in the area of Fults Road and Bluff Road.
Per the lawsuit, Jonah was working for Glendell Farms that evening when he drove a tractor across an unmarked railroad crossing and was struck by a train heading southbound.
One train had finished going north, but he apparently did not see another train traveling south at the double-track crossing.
Monroe County Coroner Bob Hill pronounced the 23-year-old former Waterloo FFA standout deceased at the scene. The Illinois State Police investigated the incident.
The lawsuit alleges that at least 40 trains a day traversed the uncontrolled crossing at speeds of up to 70 mph and that the crossing was “significantly elevated above the surrounding terrain” and had “overgrown vegetation and/or other materials,” which combined to make it difficult to see an approaching southbound train when traveling from direction Jonah was driving.
The suit claims Glendell Farms and the Hartmans did not “provide a reasonably safe work environment” or give employees “the necessary skills, training, instruction, tools, equipment, supervision and manpower to safely perform their duties.”
It alleges the Hartmans and Glendell farms did not implement and/or enforce safe work practices for traversing the railroad crossing, train employees on how to safely cross the tracks, adequately supervise employees, “regrade, redesign or otherwise maintain” the private road that goes over the crossing to improve the line of sight, clear vegetation that blocked the line of sight, and provide another way to access the field without going over the tracks.
The suit also claims the Hartmans and Glendell Farms “authorized and/or instructed employees, including Jonah Matthews” to use their cell phones while operating tractors and to travel over the crossing.
The wrongful death count against Union Pacific alleges the company failed to install lights, arms or gates at that crossing, clear overgrown vegetation near the crossing for optimal viewing, “regrade, redesign or otherwise maintain” the private road at the crossing to improve line of sight, “maintain the crossing in a reasonably” safe manner and failed to operate its train at a safe speed or manner when approaching or traversing the crossing.
Glendell Farms and Union Pacific did not say much when reached for comment.
“No comment,” Glendell Farms said.
“Union Pacific was recently served with the lawsuit and we are evaluating the claims. We will respond to the allegations formally throughout the course of the litigation,” the railroad told the Republic-Times.
According to the filing, the suit was filed in St. Clair County because at least one defendant, Union Pacific, is a resident of that county. The railroad has corporate offices in Centreville.
The Matthews family expressed gratitude for the outpouring of prayers and support from the community in the days following their son’s death at a prayer vigil held at their house on June 17, 2019.
“We love Jonah very much and Jonah loved us very much, and we can’t ask for anymore,” David Matthews said that night. “By what we’ve seen in the community just in three days, Jonah was well-loved. We appreciate that. We will never be able to repay or thank the community for everything that is going on. We can feel the prayers. It’s unbelievable.”
A memorial scholarship in Jonah’s name at the Monroe County Farm Bureau has also gotten thousands of dollars in community support.
In addition to his father, Jonah is survived by his mother Deb and brothers, Josh, Jacob, Jeremiah, Jesse and Jordan.