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Lawsuit claims negligence after woman was struck by train while in patrol car

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Yareni Rios accuses three officers of negligent and reckless behavior after she was hit while in the back of a patrol car.

WELD COUNTY, Colo. — Yareni Rios screamed for help as a freight train barreled toward her at nearly 48 mph while she was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car in Weld County, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

It's unclear whether the three officers nearby, two from the Fort Lupton Police Department and one from the Platteville Police Department, heard her pleas for help before the train slammed into the car forcing it to roll twice and travel about a half a mile before it came to rest in a field.

>The video above is a prior report about the case.

The lawsuit filed Thursday against those officers, Jordan Steinke, Ryan Thomeczek (both Fort Lupton officers), and Pablo Vasquez (a Platteville officer) accuses them of violating Colorado law by failing to intervene in the unlawful acts of others. It also alleges negligent and reckless behavior when the officers failed to keep Rios safe while she was in their custody.

Steinke and Vasquez have been charged criminally in the case.

The Town of Platteville and City of Fort Lupton are also named as defendants in the suit.

The suit stems from an incident on Sept. 16 of last year. Rios Gonzalez, who was a suspect in an earlier road rage incident, was pulled over by Vazquez. She was pulled over just after the train tracks on Weld County Road 36. Vazquez stopped behind her directly on the train tracks.

Credit: Yareni Rios
A photo of Yareni Rios before she was hit by a freight train while detained in a police vehicle.

Rios complied with officers' commands and was handcuffed before Steinke placed her in the back, driver's side of Vazquez's patrol car, which was parked on the tracks.

Allegations of negligence

According to the lawsuit, the officers were negligent in numerous ways. They include:

  • Failure to provide a safe environment while in police custody
  • Failure to prevent foreseeable injury
  • Failure to have situational awareness
  • Failure to notice vehicle was parked on railroad tracks 
  • Failure to move it from the tracks
  • Failure to get Rios to safety when they heard/saw the train

Body camera footage shows that when Steinke handcuffed Rios, she was on the tracks. At that same time, the suit says, Thomeczek was also standing on the tracks.

The suit says the railroad crossing sign was clearly visible to them and there was a smaller sign attached to it that included a phone number that the officers could have used to notify the railroad of police activity. They did not do that, the lawsuit says.

Credit: Lawsuit
A railroad crossing sign with a smaller sign attached indicated a number to call if there is an emergency near the tracks.

The suit also claims the Town of Platteville and the City of Fort Lupton had "negligent hiring and training practices. It pointed to prior performance issues and complaints about Vazquez at his former police department.

Discipline documents from the Federal Heights Police Department, where Vazquez worked as a sergeant, outline serious allegations of lackadaisical police work, tardiness and lack of care for safety.

The allegations outlined in the Federal Heights police discipline report outline poor police performance between 2019 and 2020 and are based on written statements made by fellow officers.

The report outlines numerous other allegations against Vazquez, including abuse of break time, tardiness and lack of preparedness for duty. 

Due to that, the suit claims, Platteville knew or should have known that Vazquez "presented an unreasonable risk of harm." It also alleges that the town "negligently" entrusted him to drive the patrol car, which was town property.

The suit says both Fort Lupton and Platteville were negligent in their training of officers.

Allegations of law violations

The lawsuit alleges that the officers violated Colorado law by failing to intervene. As an example, neither Vazquez or Thomeczek stopped Steinke from placing Rios in the car on the train tracks, the suit says.

It also alleges that no one intervened after Vazquez failed to read Rios her rights and subjected her to "custodial interrogation."

According to the suit, Rios suffered nine broken ribs, a fractured sternum and a broken arm and leg in the crash and costs have already exceeded $424,000 and are continuing to rise.

Vazquez is charged with: 

  • Five counts of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, against five victims: Rios Gonzalez, Steinke and three other people
  • One count of obstructing a highway or other passageway
  • One count of careless driving, a traffic offense
  • One count of parking where prohibited

Steinke is charged with: 

  • One count of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, a felony
  • One count of second-degree assault, a felony
  • One count of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor

Rios is also facing a charge in connection with the alleged road rage incident she was initially detained for.

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