A $100 million lawsuit was filed by the Witherspoon Law Group on behalf of a widow left to raise their three children alone.
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – Millions of Americans commute on Amtrak trains across the country, but are they safe? The family of Richie T. Aaron says that the 30-year-old husband and father of three would have been alive if Amtrak police had simply searched the shooter or rendered aid in time. The slain contractor’s family has hired The Witherspoon Law Group to represent them in their $100 million lawsuit against the national railroad company. Marquise Webb — the man who has been charged with second-degree murder for killing Mr. Aaron — was questioned by an Amtrak conductor for suspicious behavior but was not searched. Instead, the shooter was allowed to remain aboard an Amtrak train with a loaded firearm despite earlier reports of bloodshot eyes and appearing high on drugs. Thirty-five minutes passed as Aaron bled out on the Amtrak train while calls for help and aid from passengers were ignored.
Richie Aaron had been away from his family for two weeks working as a contractor in Bloomington, Illinois, and was on his way home to his wife and three children—ages 11, 8, and 4, when an armed man shot him on an Amtrak train.
“He was just trying to get home to me and our three children,” said Breayonna Aaron, wife of the deceased shooting victim. “I am disgusted. Amtrak knew something wasn’t right with the man who shot my husband, but they let him stay on that train. How come the Amtrak police did nothing to keep my husband safe? Where were the scanners and metal detectors? How come there were no police on the train? People were calling for help. How come no one stopped the train to help Richie? They could have saved his life, but they didn’t, and I just don’t understand that.”
Attorneys and the family of Richie Aaron say that the husband and father of three would be alive if Amtrak police and staff had followed their own safety plan.
“Based on our initial investigation, Amtrak’s ‘Commitment to Safety’ policy clearly states: ‘All employees are empowered to stop an operation if an unsafe condition exists. This means everyone — at any time.’ Despite this policy, not one Amtrak employee acted appropriately to save Richie Aaron’s life so he could get home safely to his family,” said Nuru Witherspoon, attorney for Richie Aaron’s family. “This is unacceptable.”
Amtrak’s safety and security protocols for emergency preparedness and emergency care were not followed. No Amtrak employees responded to the sound of gunshots, and passengers on the Amtrak train say their cries for help went ignored after Richie Aaron was shot. Instead of remaining at the Lee’s Summit, Missouri station for emergency medical assistance immediately following the shooting, Richie Aaron lay dying as the train continued to its next stop in Independence, Missouri. According to at least one witness, thirty-five minutes passed between the shooting and the train finally stopping in Independence. Amtrak employees failed to ensure timely medical treatment for Aaron, and Amtrak refused to stop the train or connect with emergency services along the route, despite Mr. Aaron’s life-threatening injuries.
“Where were the Amtrak conductor and police while Richie Aaron was dying on their commuter train? No one stopped the train. How could Amtrak’s security and engineers let 35 minutes pass before stopping the train after Richie Aaron was shot? Was the priority getting to the next stop on time or saving the life of a passenger? The negligent acts of Amtrak and its employees mean that Richie Aaron’s three children grow up without their father, and his wife is now a widow,” said Nuru Witherspoon, attorney for the family of the slain passenger.
According to its website and YouTube channel, Amtrak claims it has a specially-trained police force of more than 450 people who are “always close by, providing rapid response,” and who are tasked with keeping its passengers safe and secure during their travels. The family is trying to understand how a man could be allowed onto a train with a loaded weapon when there are policies that prevent that. Mr. Aaron’s family wants to know where the Amtrak security measures and trained police force were at the time of the shooting. Mrs. Aaron is concerned that this type of violence could happen to any American who is trying to get to-and-from work on an Amtrak train.
“Richie was a hard-working man, and a kind and loving husband and father. We would have celebrated our wedding anniversary was on February 14th, and our oldest son just turned 12-years-old on March 11th, said Breayonna Aaron. “Because Amtrak didn’t care about safety, I had to tell my children that their dad is never coming home. He took care of us. Now, our family has to figure out how to go on without my husband.”
“Amtrak has a Safety Management System that it failed to execute in order to save Richie Aaron’s life,” said Witherspoon. “Amtrak failed to search and detain a suspicious passenger. Amtrak failed to stop and provide aid to Richie Aaron after he was shot on that train. Richie Aaron bled out on a train because Amtrak failed to follow its own policies and procedures. Amtrak failed to make passenger safety a priority, and as a result, Richie Aaron is dead.”
The Witherspoon Law Group’s initial investigation reveals the following:
- Amtrak owns and operates passenger rail transportation throughout the country, including a span between St. Louis, Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri;
- On January 14, 2022, Amtrak operated, managed, maintained, supervised, and owned a passenger train carrying passengers, including Richie Terrell Aaron, Jr., between Normal, Illinois and Independence, Missouri;
- As the train carrying Richie Aaron was approaching or had just stopped at a station in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, located at 217 S.W. Main Street, near the intersection of 3rd Street, passengers heard gunshots on the train. Aaron had been shot by another Amtrak ticket-holding passenger;
- The shooter, Defendant Marquise Webb, had boarded the train separately from Richie Aaron, Jr., in Normal, Illinois. Webb was a stranger to Mr. Aaron. Webb was wearing a jacket and was carrying a backpack. Not long before he boarded the train, Webb was involved in a car-jacking and the victim described him as having puffy and bloodshot eyes and that he appeared to be high on drugs;
- After Webb boarded the train, the Amtrak conductor checked passenger tickets, including Webb’s. The conductor questioned Webb prior to the shooting as to why he had purchased two tickets for the same trip to Kansas City, but despite not having an answer, he was not asked any follow-up questions, he was not asked to open his bag, and he was not asked to remove his jacket or otherwise detained for further inquiry;
- While stopped at the Lee’s Summit station, other passengers on the train notified Amtrak personnel of multiple gunshots and of Aaron’s injuries. Passengers told Amtrak personnel to stop the train. During the stop at Lee’s Summit, Webb fled the train. The train then departed the Lee’s Summit station towards the next stop at 600 South Grand Avenue in Independence, Missouri;
- Despite continued pleas by the passengers to stop the train, Amtrak personnel did not oblige, instead continuing to Independence, Missouri while Aaron lay bleeding and dying on the train. The Independence train stop is at least sixteen minutes away once the train departed from Lee’s Summit according to Amtrak’s public-facing, online booking system. Including the time stopped in Lee’s Summit, witnesses reported that thirty-five minutes passed between the gunshots and the train stopping in Independence. Amtrak made no effort to remain at the Lee’s Summit stop or stop the train along the route to connect with emergency services, despite Aaron’s life-threatening injuries;
- When the train later arrived at the stop in Independence, emergency services arrived to assist Aaron, but it was far too late. Aaron was pronounced dead at the scene. Passengers reported that when officials were informed of the gunshots and asked that the train stop, Amtrak failed to do so. No emergency services were called by Amtrak at the time the shooting was reported and/or no emergency services were called to assist at the Lee’s Summit station or anywhere else en-route to Independence;
- Amtrak has no and/or inadequate passenger security screenings prior to boarding its trains to detect loaded firearms being transported on the persons of its passengers. Amtrak does not employ metal detectors, body scanners, screen passengers for firearms, or display and/or adequately display signs prohibiting firearms;
- While Amtrak permits firearms to be included in checked baggage, there are no regular, routine or consistent security measures to dissuade passengers from carrying loaded firearms on their person onto Amtrak trains. Carry-on baggage is also not adequately screened, if at all;
- Security personnel are not posted and/or adequately posted on every train, and no security responded and/or was onboard at the time of or prior to the shooting at issue in this case. Any security that may have been on board failed to act following reports of the shooting and Aaron’s injuries. At the same time, Amtrak does not warn and/or adequately warn its customers of the risks associated with passengers carrying firearms or risks associated with their lack of security measures regarding firearms;
- To compete with air travel, Amtrak purposefully minimizes security measures to ensure what the company perceives as less hassle to its paying customers. Amtrak believes heightened security would hinder the fluidity and timeliness of train travel, reducing its potential as a competitive option to plane travel and downwardly affecting its bottom line;
- No action was taken prior to the shooting in contravention of Amtrak’s own policies and procedures. The shooting began at around 1:30 a.m. after the assailant arrived, resulting in Aaron’s severe injuries and untimely death; and
- Amtrak employs 450 persons who are tasked with security and safety. Had Amtrak followed its own policies and procedures, the shooting would have never occurred. Not only did Amtrak fail to properly train its employees and/or failed to adequately implement its own workplace policies and procedures relevant to preventing the shooting at issue and the risks associated with lax safety and security measures, but Amtrak further failed to take adequate security measures to protect the premises, including but not limited to, regular security detail and access controls, to prevent or deter violent crime from occurring on its premises.