TACOMA, Wash. – BNSF Railway is asking a judge to prevent the Pierce County Medical Examiner from obtaining video showing the moments before a man was killed by a train, citing privacy concerns.
Medical Examiner Thomas Clark says his investigators need a copy of the video to determine the manner of death of 50-year-old Ronnie Stirgus. The video shows Stirgus walking on snowy rails Feb. 5 in Puyallup before he was hit by a train, The News Tribune reported. Police have said the man appeared to slip or stumble as the locomotive approached.
Clark said he used his subpoena power, by calling an inquest into Stirgus’ death, to obtain the video.
“That is the only place that the medical examiner is allowed to issue a subpoena,” Clark told the newspaper. “Normally we don’t have to.”
BNSF called it an “illegal ruse.” It has asked a Pierce County Superior Court Judge to stop Clark from enforcing a subpoena for the footage. The judge agreed April 12 to do that until a hearing next month.
BSNF argued that an inquest is arcane and rarely used, and added that scientific advances have helped investigators better determine how someone died.
“In the era of social media and YouTube, BNSF did not release the video, to protect the family of the deceased and BNSF employees involved in the tragedy,” railway attorney Michael Chait argued in court records.
The railroad said in court records that a BNSF employee offered to bring the video over to show investigators but declined to provide a copy because of privacy concerns.
Clark said that because state law covering death investigations requires confidentiality, discussions can’t happen in front of railway staff members, which is why he didn’t accept the railway’s offer to show investigators the video.
“BNSF has offered to bring the video, but they want to keep their representative present while we look at it, and that violates our confidentiality standards,” Clark told the newspaper.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.