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Couple in Memorial Day train-van crash sues railroad

March 29, 2010

A husband and wife involved in a train-van crash at an Elm Grove railroad crossing during last year's Memorial Day parade are suing the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Victor Harding, the Milwaukee attorney representing Scott Partenfelder and Monica Ensley-Partenfelder, said the rail company knew about the parade and the expected increase in vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the railroad crossings, and should have taken steps to prevent an accident.

"We're seeking damages against CP Rail for causing this problem," Harding said, adding the company received multiple warnings about the additional traffic that day. "Had the train slowed down, this inevitably wouldn't have happened."

Minivan was stuck on tracks

The West Allis couple were traveling in separate cars to the May 25 parade on Juneau Boulevard. Partenfelder said cars in front of him stopped suddenly to let people out. Ensley-Partenfelder's minivan was stopped on the tracks. When she saw a train coming, she turned the van's wheels to maneuver around her husband's vehicle, and became stuck on the rails.

Partenfelder and Elm Grove police officer John Krahn, who was performing routine parade duty when he saw the train coming, worked to free the couple's 2-year-old son from his car seat in the back. Krahn had removed Ensley-Partenfelder from the minivan.

The train struck the van, which hit both men, throwing them several feet away. The child was unharmed, remaining safe in his car seat.

The men were taken to Froedtert Hospital and treated for their injuries. Krahn had broken bones in his leg, shoulder, pelvis and ribs, and sprained his right leg and ankle. Partenfelder also sustained several injuries that required multiple surgeries.

Medical bills piling up

Harding said Partenfelder has already amassed $500,000 worth of medical bills and continues to have orthopedic problems. He also has limited vocal abilities after receiving a tracheotomy.

It is still questionable whether Partenfelder will be able to return to work, Harding added.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday is Milwaukee County Circuit Court, did not specify what type of damages the couple is seeking.

A representative of Canadian Pacific Railway could not be reached for comment.

The Elm Grove Police Department's investigation of the crash determined that Ensley-Partenfelder's vehicle being on the tracks violated a state law that states no vehicle may stop within 25 feet of the nearest rail at a railroad crossing. She was issued a citation of $63.

The police investigation also found Partenfelder's driver's license had been revoked in 1994. He was also issued a citation for $36.

Both entered no-contest pleas to the citations, said Mary Doyne, Elm Grove's municipal court clerk.

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