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Court: Washington coroner not entitled to BNSF cab video NEWSWIRE

By Bill Virgin | February 4, 2019

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that the Pierce County, Wash., medical examiner isn’t entitled to a copy of a video recording made and held by BNSF Railway of a 2017 fatality in which a man standing on tracks was struck and killed.

The ruling, filed Jan. 31, stems from a Feb. 5, 2017 incident in Puyallup, Wash., in which a BNSF freight, traveling during heavy snow, struck a 54-year-old man who was standing on the tracks, according to the court’s opinion.

“According to witnesses at the scene, the train blew its whistle, but R.S. [the victim] was struck and killed. Witnesses disagree about whether R.S. intentionally stayed on the tracks,” the report read.

The locomotive was equipped with a video camera and recorded the event.

Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark issued a subpoena for the video, but BNSF challenged whether he had properly launched a coroner’s inquest and whether he had the power to issue a subpoena. According to the ruling, BNSF was concerned that the video might be leaked.

“Instead, BNSF offered to show the video to Dr. Clark at any time, as many times as he would like to view it, and brought the video to the ME’s office. No one at the ME’s office viewed the video.”

The court agreed with BNSF that because no inquest had been formally called, the subpoena was not valid.

“Although the coroner may subpoena the video in this case, he or she may demand only that the witness bring the evidence to the inquest jury,” the court said. “The coroner is not entitled to summon the witness or the evidence to his or her office.”

11 thoughts on “Court: Washington coroner not entitled to BNSF cab video NEWSWIRE

  1. The title is misleading. BNSF is not saying “You can’t have it.” They are saying “You have to follow proper procedure.”. There is a difference.

    The above comments are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn lawyer.

  2. I wouldn’t trust handing the video over. BNSF is right to suspect that the video could be used against them. The fact the BNSF offered to let the M.E. view it & no one did raises a red flag. They want their hands on it for some agenda. Make the M.E. & attorneys go through the proper hoops. In the meantime, guard it.

  3. Aanna, I would say that the title is correct. BNSF says the coroner cannot have it. He can see it, the jury could see it, but they cannot have it. Seeing and having being the key differences. Having requires possession and BNSF is not going to give it up. And if BNSF is worried about it leaking, I’d make sure that there were no ould cameras in the rooms if they do show it. That would include saying no cell phones in the room.

  4. By the way, BNSF is not saying they can’t have it. The WA State Supreme Court said they are not entitled to it.

  5. Mister Winter:

    You are right and I am wrong. You have male privilege and all I am is a housewife in a small northern town. What do I know, except how to make babies and fetch beer?

    The above comments are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn lawyer.

  6. Anna. Good grief. I guess we can’t have a disagreement without political correctness or some form of name calling social justice is thrown in. I don’t have any privilege, just an opinion. But I will take you up on that beer. (Just having fun) Seriously, I hope you have a wonderful day & look forward to more discussions.

  7. Nope. Try again. And note the following:

    “Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark issued a subpoena for the video, but BNSF challenged whether he had properly launched a coroner’s inquest and whether he had the power to issue a subpoena.”

    and

    “The court agreed with BNSF that because no inquest had been formally called, the subpoena was not valid.”

    The Washington Supreme Court is not saying that the coroner can’t have it. That issue has not been addressed. The Court is saying that the coroner did not follow proper procedure.

    Whether BNSF is concerned about leaking, liability, or anything else beginning with “L”, I would have advised the same response. If the coroner wants the tape they have to do it the right way or no dice. The reason for this is to avoid setting a precedent, where the coroner (or any government agency, for that matter) can just waltz into their offices and demand whatever they want, without going through channels.

    I looked up the decision. BNSF isn’t trying to hide anything, as witness that they offered to let the coroner see the tape in their offices. They just want things done by the book. And I don’t blame them.

    Many people cannot see the distinction between the two positions, but it is there and it is important. Think it over.

    The above comments are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn lawyer.

  8. This was a technical, legal matter and nothing more, as far as the court was concerned. BNSF had it reasons, and I think if you read between the lines those are obvious. When/if the coroner follows the legal requirements, he/she will get the appropriate access. Really a simple deal when you look at it.

  9. The Coroner’s agenda is,among other things, to determine manner of death. The choices are: natural, accident, suicide, homicide, or undermined. Since the article indicates some witness accounts suggested the decedent may have remained in the path of the train despite being alerted to its approach, the in cab video may help the coroner determine between accident and suicide.

    It is odd that the coroner declined to view the video when offered. Although one cannot rule out a good old fashioned “pissing match.”

  10. I repeat, the WA Court ruled the ME is not legally entitled to it. If the court ruled differently then it would have ruled they can have it. BNSF offered their argument & the court agreed with BNSF. If the ME goes through the proper procdures, then the court will allow yhem to have it.

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