Woman hit by train while restrained in police car settles lawsuit against Platteville, Fort Lupton

Police body camera video from Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, shows police illegally parked on train tracks in Weld County.
Fort Lupton Police via 9News
Police video from Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, shows a train as it’s about to hit a police car illegally parked on tracks in Weld County.

Updated at 3:58 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Yareni Rios, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and numerous broken bones after a freight train hit the police car she was handcuffed inside, has settled her lawsuit against the cities of Platteville and Fort Lupton, her attorney announced Tuesday.

Paul Wilkinson, Rios’ lawyer, said the settlement is for $8.5 million.

The municipal governments in Platteville and Fort Lupton are both covered under a $10 million eroding insurance policy, also known as a “Pac-Man” policy, Wilkinson said. Under those terms, the cost of mounting a defense comes directly out of the policy itself, meaning the longer Rios pressed the case, the less money would be available to collect at the end. Wilkinson said the defense had already spent about $1 million on the case when mediation began.

Alternatively, a settlement could have been paid out by an increase in the cities’ local property tax rates. 

“This is an excellent result and a hard-fought result, especially when considering the small municipalities involved,” Wilkinson said.

The Sept. 17, 2022, crash happened near Highway 85 and County Road 38 in Weld County. Former Platteville officer Pablo Vasquez pulled over Rios, who was 20 at the time, after a 911 caller accused her of waving a gun at them. 

After arriving to assist Vasquez, former Fort Lupton police officer Jordan Steinke handcuffed Rios and placed her inside Vasquez’s police vehicle. Neither officer noticed the police SUV was illegally parked across nearby train tracks, despite body cam footage showing multiple railroad crossing signs within feet of the vehicle.

As Steinke and Vasquez searched Rios’s pickup, a freight train approached. The conductor blared the train’s horn several times, but the officers did not recognize what was about to happen. 

Vasquez’s vehicle was crushed by the train and flung into a nearby ditch with Rios trapped in the back seat.

Wilkinson said he spoke with Rios on Tuesday to let her know about the settlement. He said Rios is a private person and doesn’t want to speak publicly. But her recovery has progressed, and Wilkinson said she seemed in good spirits on the phone.

“She is up and moving around. She is still recovering from some physical and emotional impacts that she’ll be dealing with for the rest of her life. But considering she got hit by a train, she’s doing alright,” Wilkinson said.

Both Vasquez and Steinke were fired by their respective police departments and criminally charged following the crash.

A judge convicted Steinke of reckless endangerment and assault, both misdemeanors, during a bench trial in 2023. She was also charged with attempted manslaughter, a felony, but was acquitted. Steinke was sentenced to 30 months of supervised probation and was required to complete 100 hours of community service.

Vasquez pleaded guilty in December to one count of reckless endangerment for parking on the tracks. He was sentenced to 12 months of unsupervised probation, but the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed and the case sealed if he completes that term without incident.

When CPR News contacted the Fort Lupton police department, it directed all questions to its law firm.

"Given that the settlement is not yet finalized and the case has not been dismissed, my office is limiting our response based on the initial media inquiry that we received earlier today," said attorney Eric Ziporin in an email. "As of now, I can advise that you that amount of the settlement is being split 50/50 between the City of Fort Lupton and the Town of Platteville. The entirety of the settlement will be paid by the two entities’ insurer."

The Platteville Police Department has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Editor’s note: Wilkinson confirmed to CPR News that his client goes by the last name Rios, although some documents previously identified her surname as Rios-Gonzalez.

CPR News' Tony Gorman contributed to this report.