SOUTH BAY OFFICIALS this week mourned the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Valley Transportation Authority’s San Jose maintenance yard that left nine VTA employees dead. On the same day, eight of the families affected filed a lawsuit against VTA, Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the security company tasked with protecting the rail yard.
Officials with the VTA and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265, which represents VTA workers, held a candlelight vigil Thursday morning to remember the nine workers who were killed at the rail maintenance yard on West Younger Avenue.
The workers killed in the shooting were Abdojlvahab Alaghmandan, 63, Adrian Balleza, 29, Jose Hernandez III, 35, Lars Lane, 63, Michael Rudometkin, 40, Paul Megia, 42, Taptejeep Singh, 36, Timothy Romo, 49, and Alex Fritch, 49.
A 10th worker, Henry Gonzales, was found dead in his home in August of an apparent suicide after witnessing the shooting.
“The cruel act of one individual has shattered so many families and impacted all of us with the loss of our colleagues and friends,” VTA General Manager Carolyn Gonot said. “As a family, we’ve tried our best to deal with this tragedy.”
Earlier this month, the VTA demolished the building at the rail yard where a disgruntled VTA employee began the shooting and killed six of the nine workers who died at the rail yard.
VTA’s Power and Signal teams had worked in the building before the shooting, but it has remained vacant since then.
‘It stole something from each of us’
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo noted in a statement that the shooting was the deadliest in Bay Area history.
“May 26, 2021, irrevocably changed San Jose, and it stole something from each of us,” he said. “But in the days that followed, we pulled together as one community, supporting our friends and neighbors, uplifting the memories of those who have left us too soon, and carrying those still here through their journey to healing.”
The families of Fritch, Megia, Rudometkin, Singh, Alaghmandan, Hernandez, Romo and Lane announced lawsuits Thursday against the VTA, Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the security company tasked with protecting the rail yard, Universal Protection Service, for allegedly failing to investigate or take action after workers complained about the shooter’s actions while at work.
According to Trial Lawyers for Justice, the law firm representing Lane’s family, the shooter had a “pattern of insubordination” and had been involved in multiple altercations with co-workers prior to the shooting.
VTA workers had also agreed that the shooter, 57-year-old Sam Cassidy, would be the staff member most likely to “go postal.”
“By failing to act, VTA gave a man with known and dangerous propensities access to 379 employees at the yard,” Eva Silva, the attorney representing Lane’s family, said in a statement. “Nine of them are dead as a result.”
Focused on healing process
In three separate lawsuits, the victims’ families argued that the VTA agreed to a $50 million security contract with the sheriff’s office and Universal Protection Service, both of which allegedly failed to conduct proper security screening, risk mitigation efforts and surveillance.
The VTA said in a statement that it would address the claims of the lawsuits “at a more appropriate time.”
“VTA is focusing on the continued healing of our employees, and the families of our deceased co-workers,” the transit agency said. “Tragically, we are also mourning the loss of the dozens of other victims of hate-filled massacres that have happened throughout the nation.”
“VTA is focusing on the continued healing of our employees, and the families of our deceased co-workers.”VTA statement
Spokespersons for the sheriff’s office and the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office both declined to comment, citing the lawsuits as “pending litigation.”
A spokesperson for Universal Protection Service did not respond to a request for comment.
At the Thursday morning memorial, ATU Local 265 President John Courtney called for VTA executives to improve working conditions at the transit agency in an effort to ensure that employees can “know that they’re not going to be harmed or assaulted.”
“Systemically, we face a monster,” Courtney said. “A monster at VTA that wasn’t created overnight. It’s not going to be fixed in a year, but God darn it it’s going to be fixed if it’s the last thing that we do.”