The wife of a Metra track inspector who was killed Nov. 3 in an explosion in Chicago has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the commuter rail agency.
Sandy Zavala, of Joliet, filed a suit in Cook County on Thursday saying Metro failed to provide her husband, Omar Solis, 37, with a reasonably safe place to work.
The lawsuit also contends Metra violated engineering rules regarding the use of flammable gas tanks and failed to provide sufficient manpower to perform the assigned tasks, among other accusations.
Zavala also filed an emergency motion to inspect and preserve evidence, including trucks, welding equipment and railroad tracks.
Solis and another man were using torches to make repairs to elevated tracks when the explosion occurred, a Metra official said the day of the accident. The blast occurred near the Grayland station in the Old Irving Park neighborhood, and nearby residents reported the large boom shook their homes.
Solis, a father of two boys, was pronounced dead at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center about 30 minutes after the explosion, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The second man working at the scene, whose name has not been released, was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in critical condition, a Chicago Fire Department spokesman said at the time of the incident.
“He knew there was a risk, but he always was ‘safety first, safety first,’” Zavala, 37, said of her husband, whom she met when both were 14. “He loved his job. He liked learning new things.”
Solis came from a railroad family, relatives said. He started working at Metra when he was 20 and had a 17-year-long career with the agency. His brother also works for Metra, as do 11 other relatives, family members said.
About 300 people came to pay their respects to Solis at his funeral in Joliet on Thursday, including many members of his Metra work community, said Solis’ sister-in-law, Silvia DiazDeSandy.
“When they say your job is your other family, it was,” DiazDeSandy said. “He was well-loved.”
Solis was described by his family as a hard worker, the “breadwinner” and a family man with an “infectious smile.” He enjoyed taking his sons Omar, 19, and Brian, 16, on outings to the batting cages. He would sometimes overcook dinner on the grill and then order pizza instead — something his family liked to tease him about. Brian Solis had a birthday since his father died, and started the day with a visit to his gravesite.
“People who ride Metra don’t realize how much work and effort goes into keeping the tracks and the rail in safe condition for 70 mph trains,” said George Brugess, one of the attorneys for Solis’ family.
Railroad workers aren’t subject to state workers’ compensation laws, Burgess explained.
Zavala said she decided to file the suit against the agency because she wants answers about what happened to her husband.
“We need to be able to explain to a jury exactly how this happened and why it shouldn’t have happened,” Brugess said.
Solis’ father-in-law, Manuel Zavala Sr., 69, said he worked for Metra for 43 years, at times alongside Solis.
“It’s tough to swallow,” Zavala said of Solis’ fate. Zavala said one of his uncles was also killed while working on tracks a few decades ago.
A Metra spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.
‘It was just a huge boom. The house shook’: Metra worker dies, another badly hurt during Northwest Side explosion »