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Police raid office of Lac-Megantic train company

July 25, 2013, Lac-Megantic, Que. – Provincial police have raided an office belonging to the railway involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster – the latest in a growing pile of legal concerns for the U.S. company.

July 25, 2013 
By The Canadian Press

July 25, 2013, Lac-Megantic, Que. – Provincial police have raided an office belonging to the railway involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster – the latest in a growing pile of legal concerns for the U.S. company.

Police were at the office of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway in Farnham, a town between Montreal and Lac-Megantic, on Thursday. Farnham is also the home of Tom Harding, the engineer of the runaway train that smashed into Lac-Megantic on July 6, killing an estimated 47 people.

Police said they were gathering evidence in their ongoing criminal investigation into the tragedy. Company chairman Ed Burkhardt had already been questioned for hours by provincial police during his recent visit to Lac-Megantic.

A spokesman said it was unclear how long the operation would last – or whether there could be similar ones outside Quebec.


"We'll be in Farnham as long as it takes to gather all the evidence we're looking for there," said Insp. Michel Forget.

"We will work with other police forces _ either outside the country or in Canada – to conduct the necessary raids if necessary.

"For the moment there are no other raids, either in Canada or the U.S. Other organizations are investigating and I'll let them comment on that."

An official with MMA said Thursday she was aware of the police operation at its Farnham office, but she did not offer any further details. An executive with Burkhardt's Illinois-based Rail World Inc., MMA's major stockholder, said she was only made aware of the police activity after receiving a call from the media.

The company has been under the spotlight ever since MMA rail tankers carrying crude oil smashed into the heart of Lac-Megantic, triggering a series of explosions and engulfing the area in fire.

The crash wiped out dozens of buildings in the downtown core, while millions of litres of oil leaked into the soil and nearby water bodies.

A number of lawsuits have been launched in the case, in addition to separate investigations being conducted by police and transportation-safety officials. The disaster has already prompted some changes to federal safety guidelines for railways.

Lac-Megantic's mayor announced earlier this week she had sent a lawyer's letter to MMA, demanding that it immediately reimburse the town $4 million for environmental cleanup costs.

Colette Roy-Laroche alleges the community had to pick up the tab for MMA because it failed to pay companies it had hired to mop up crude oil that spilled from the damaged tankers. She said the crews would have left town if they weren't paid.

The letter told the company it had 48 hours – or until noon Thursday – to respond.

A few hours after the deadline passed, Roy-Laroche told reporters that Lac-Megantic never heard from MMA. She said she had hoped MMA would have conducted itself like a good corporate citizen.

"It was the least we could have expected from the company," said Roy-Laroche. She said the town is now evaluating, with the help of the provincial government and legal experts, how it will  roceed.

"It's too early to say which route and procedure we will take."

And this might only be the start of the company's legal problems.

On Thursday, two more wrongful-death lawsuits were filed in an Illinois court against Rail World, MMA, Burkhardt and several U.S. petroleum companies linked to the disaster. They followed another similar lawsuit presented Monday by the same Illinois firm.

Attorney Peter Flowers filed the court documents on behalf of the loved ones of three people killed in the derailment – Jean-Guy Veilleux, 32, Genevieve Breton, 28, and Melissa Roy, 29.

Flowers has said he expects to present more than a dozen additional suits that could each seek millions in damages from the defendants.

Aldana indicated the company has yet to be served with a wrongful-death lawsuit, but Flowers said it could take several days before the defendants receive the documents.

Companies connected to the derailment may also face another legal challenge after a motion was presented last week in a Quebec court seeking permission to file a class-action lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the parish priest in Lac-Megantic is preparing for an upcoming memorial ceremony, which he believes will give the community its first opportunity to pause and grieve together.

Ste-Agnes Church will hold a Roman Catholic mass and memorial service Saturday to remember the victims of the derailment.

"I don't think there are any words that can make sense of such an event, one of so much suffering," Father Steve Lemay, who will deliver the homily, told a news conference Thursday.

"On the other hand, I have seen since the first moments of the disaster, of the tragedy, the power of love present in the mutual aid, in the brotherhood, in the welcoming, the listening, the sharing. And these expressions show me that death can do nothing against love."

The service will be presided over by Luc Cyr, the archbishop of Sherbrooke.

Organizers of the service have reserved 700 places in the 1,000-seat church for loved ones of the derailment victims. Remaining pew spots in the church have been set aside for locals, volunteers and dignitaries.

Two big-screen TVs will be set up outside the church and will broadcast the ceremony live.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is expected to be among those at the service.

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