Originally created 05/26/05

Train wreck settlement to be reviewed



AIKEN - A federal judge is to review today a proposed settlement between the Norfolk Southern railroad and residents affected by the Jan. 6 train accident and chlorine spill in Graniteville.

Under the preliminary settlement, Norfolk Southern, which owned both trains involved in the accident, would offer $2,000 to residents who were evacuated after the accident. It would also pay $200 per day of evacuation, per person, for those who didn't seek medical attention within 72 hours after the crash.

That means a family of five evacuated for the maximum 13 days, for example, would receive $15,000, in addition to property damages and other losses.

"It's really more than I expected," said Phil Napier, the chief of the Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Voluntary Fire Department.

"To be perfectly honest with you, if a person does not have property damage and they don't have a health problem, I think it's fair," he said. "Of course, a lot will disagree."

In a few evacuated neighborhoods outside the one-mile zone, residents would receive a maximum of $1,600. The settlement also covers people who lost wages or had other damages because they worked inside the evacuation zone.

A portion of the settlement would pay for property damage caused by chlorine exposure, though many residents have already received compensation for damaged items.

The railroad paid Pam Wilmer's sister, Dawn Smith, about $450 for a new heat pump, which ground to a halt after ball bearings in the machine corroded, Ms. Wilmer said.

Ms. Wilmer also owns property in Graniteville that was damaged by chlorine. Like many others, she has been negotiating with the railroad independent of an attorney and said she wasn't sure whether she qualified for money from the class action lawsuits brought by 14 individuals.

She said the proposed evacuation settlement seemed fair, though it might not compensate everybody.

"Unfortunately for a lot of people, it was their entire life that was affected," she said.

Anna Lassiter wasn't overly excited by the proposed settlement. She and her family were evacuated. They moved to Seneca, S.C., weeks after the crash.

"People are still getting sick over it," she said. "I'm not going to take that chance with my life and the life of my children."

The railroad paid for damages to her house, but only after a struggle, she said.

"We just wanted to close that chapter in our life and move on."

Associated Press reports were used in this story.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.