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Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service, Published April 11 2014

BNSF, fraternity face suit in UND student's rail yard death after leaving party

GRAND FORKS – The parents of a University of North Dakota student killed in a train accident two years ago are now suing the railroad company and fraternity they allege contributed to their son’s death.

Minneapolis residents Corey and Robin Ayling filed the personal injury lawsuit last month in state district court in Grand Forks and seek at least $50,000 in damages.

Their son, 20-year-old business student Blake Ayling, died while taking a shortcut during the early morning of March 24, 2012, through a rail yard owned by BNSF Railway just south of the UND campus.

At the time, police said he may have tried to climb over or through train cars while he walked through the yard. At some point, his right arm was severed and caused him to bleed to death.

Ayling’s body was found around 7:30 a.m. by BNSF crew members.

His family has filed suit against BNSF and UND’s Pi Kappa Alpha chapter – the fraternity where Ayling had attended a party earlier in the night. The fraternity’s international governing body, headquartered in Tennessee, also is included in the suit.

“We will review the filing and respond through the legal process,” said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth in an email.

The international Pi Kappa Alpha organization did not respond to a request for comment by late Friday.

The case has been assigned to Judge Karen Klein. Documents filed with the court indicate the Aylings and BSNF have requested a jury trial.

A court date had not been set as of Friday, but BNSF filed a notice of removal earlier this week. If granted, the motion would move the case to federal court.

Unseen danger

The lawsuit was filed March 24 by Corey Ayling, an attorney with the Minneapolis law firm McGrann, Shea, Carnival, Straughn & Lamb.

In their complaint, the Aylings allege BNSF knew pedestrians frequently crossed through the rail yard, but made little attempt to alert those pedestrians of the yard’s unseen danger.

The danger, the complaint says, comes from the remote operation of railcars by BNSF crews. The railcars in the yard are moved by means of remote control by crews who may or may not be in sight of the moving cars.

The railcars’ sudden and silent movement creates an “ultrahazardous” area, according to the complaint.

The document also says there was no warning sign near the point Ayling is thought to have entered the yard. No fences, berms, ditches, gates or other measures were present to deter pedestrians, either.

“While entirely foreseeable, BNSF failed to acknowledge, consider, appreciate or act on the fact that its rail yard is in effect a silent lethal killing field in the middle of a concentrated population,” the complaint reads.

Fraternity’s role

As for the fraternity, the Aylings are asserting Pi Kappa Alpha contributed to their son’s death by allowing him to consume alcohol on its premises.

An autopsy conducted by the UND Forensic Pathology Center found Blake Ayling’s blood-alcohol content was 0.287 percent.

Pike contributed to Ayling’s death by serving him “altered alcoholic beverages or other substances,” according to the complaint.

The international Pi Kappa Alpha Corporation is accused of negligently managing the local UND chapter.

On the night of March 23, 2012, Ayling had attended a jersey party, which required partygoers to wear sports jerseys to gain entrance into the UND chapter’s house.

The complaint says IDs were not consistently checked and some students signed the party’s guestbook under false names such as “Hannah Montana” and “Bob Saget.”

Ayling is thought to have left the party around 1 a.m. His jersey and backpack were found in the fraternity’s basement and turned over to police a few days later.