Lawsuit alleges house burned because train blocked firefighters

LAFAYETTE COUNTY, Ark. -- Homeowners in Stamps, Arkansas, are alleging that their home burned down in 2019 because a Union Pacific Railroad train blocked the path of firefighters.

Susie Grissom and Lakeshia Lowe filed a complaint Tuesday in Lafayette County circuit court against Union Pacific. They want the Nebraska-based railroad to pay more than $200,000 in connection with a fire April 20, 2019, that destroyed a house, an outbuilding and cars, according to the complaint filed by Texarkana lawyer David Carter.

A representative for Union Pacific could not be reached Friday for comment.

The complaint alleges that when a fire started in the home in the 100 block of South Pecan in Stamps, it was small and 911 was immediately called.

"The plaintiff's home is located less than one mile from the Stamps Fire Department," the complaint alleges.

A Union Pacific train was allegedly blocking the road at the Pecan Street crossing, the fastest route to the house. Firefighters at the nearby Stamps station reportedly were notified by the Lafayette County Emergency Management director that a train was blocking the most direct route.

"The Lewisville, Arkansas, Fire Department was notified to respond to the fire. However, the Lewisville Fire Department is located more than five miles away from the scene of the fire and would take approximately 10 minutes to reach the fire," the complaint states.

Stamps fire personnel headed west on U.S. 82 "so they could follow the same course into Stamps from the west as the Lewisville Fire Department," but downed power lines were blocking 82 between Lewisville and Stamps.

Stamps firefighters turned around and returned to the original route, according to the complaint.

"Defendant's train cleared the crossing just after the Stamps Fire Department units reached it, finally allowing firefighters to reach plaintiff's home, which was only one block from the railroad crossing," the complaint states.

According to the suit, Stamps firefighters could have reached the burning house in three minutes.

"Instead, it took them approximately 15 minutes to reach the scene," the complaint states.

The complaint alleges that Union Pacific was negligent in "failing to move the train or break the car so traffic could pass," resulting in a total loss of the housee, its contents, an outbuilding and vehicles. The complaint includes a list of alleged ways Union Pacific was negligent, including impeding emergency vehicles and failing to have safety procedures in place.

The plaintiffs are asking for approximately $200,000 in damages for payments made for policy deductibles and property "not otherwise covered by insurance."

The complaint also seeks a judgment for other expenses, attorney fees and costs.