GLENVIEW, Ill. – A successful lawyer and his wife who planned to celebrate the Fourth of July with dinner, watching a movie or perhaps visiting a botanical garden were killed when a suburban Chicago railroad bridge collapsed, sending train cars and tons of coal crashing onto their car on the road below, attorneys for the victims' family said Friday.
Burton and Zorine Lindner were driving under the railroad bridge about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday when the train derailed. Twenty-eight of the rail cars piled up on the bridge, causing it to collapse over a road between the suburbs of Glenview and Northbrook — twisted train cars and coal filling the gap where the bridge had been.
Officials initially said that no one was injured, but workers clearing debris discovered a bumper on Thursday morning. Then, as they cleared away yet more debris, they uncovered the crushed black Lexus with the Glenview couple inside.
Burton Lindner, 69, was a lawyer with a practice in downtown Chicago, where he worked with his oldest son, Robert. His 70-year-old wife was a retired a high school guidance counselor.
With their children out of town and Burton Lindner's talk about taking his wife out for the Fourth of July, no one had reason to suspect the worst after news broke of a railway accident in their hometown — especially since authorities sounded so confident there were no victims, said attorney Michael LaMonica, who knew the Lindners for years and once worked for Burton Lindner's law firm.
Still, LaMonica said it registered in his mind that the accident was close to the Lindner's home, and he felt an urge to call Burton Lindner's cell phone at 10 a.m. Thursday — more in jest than from fear.
"I told his voice mail, 'Hey what's up? You sleeping in?'" recalled LaMonica. He said he expected to see Burton Lindner later that day and for him to poke fun at the younger lawyer for letting a connection to the train wreck even cross his mind.
But two hours after he left the message, LaMonica, whose legal practice is in the same building as Lindner's, got a call himself. The message: Lindner had been found dead in the wreckage.
"We lost two great people," LaMonica said.
The Lindners traveled the world and took part in charitable causes, including helping build homes after Hurricane Katrina and working in soup kitchens over Thanksgiving, said Michael Helfand, who grew up in their neighborhood as a close friend of the couple's other son, Matthew.
"They were big, big livers of life," Helfand said, recalling their travels, many of which took to them to Asia, an area they came to love in part because of the firm's many Chinese-American clients.
"Burt worked with his son Rob in his law firm, which was a real source of pride in his life that he got to work with son on a daily basis," Helfand said.
The 138-car Union Pacific Railroad Co. train hauling coal from an eastern Wyoming mine to a utility in Wisconsin was one of the 500 freight trains that go through the Chicago area each day.
Temperatures soared above 100 degrees in the Chicago area Wednesday, and investigators believe the extreme heat may have caused a rail to expand and led to the derailment. The bridge collapsed under the weight of the toppled rail cars. Each one weighed 75 to 85 tons.
"That's what we're looking at the likely scenario," said Tom Lange, a Union Pacific spokesman.
Lange said the company wanted to "express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the victims."
The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing Union Pacific of negligence and failing to maintain the safety of the tracks and freight cars. The three-count lawsuit seeks at least $150,000 in damages.
"I don't care how hot it is, trains aren't supposed to fly off the tracks and crush innocent people," LaMonica said.
On Friday, stretches of twisted tracks, dozens of axles and giant train wheels lay in a pile of tangled metal at the site. Cleanup work stopped abruptly after a judge issued an order to preserve evidence. A crane and several bulldozers that had been pulling at the wreckage for days sat silently, workers lingering in the shade wondering when they might resume their efforts.
The Lindners attended Deerfield's B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim temple, where there will be a service for them over the weekend, LaMonica said.
Keyser reported from Chicago.