The family of a 24-year-old Chicago woman has filed suit against the City of Chicago and Department of Aviation, accusing them of failing to maintain a pedestrian shelter which blew over on the family, leaving the woman severely injured.
Tierney Darden’s parents say her spinal cord was severed, and she will likely never walk again.
“[When] they lifted it off, they’re all yelling, 'You can move now, you can move,'” her mother Trudy said through tears. “And she’s saying, 'I can’t move my legs!'”
Tierney, her mother and sister, had just returned from a weekend of wedding preparations in Minneapolis, stepping outside O’Hare’s Terminal 2 when a violent storm blew in August 2. The rain and hail was intense, they said, and they took refuge behind the shelter as they waited for Tierney’s father to pick them up.
“If we would have stood in front of the shelter, the hail, the way the wind was blowing, would have hit us,” sister Tayah Minniefield recalled, noting that she was able to move out of the way just as the shelter came crashing in.
“When I looked back, I couldn’t even see Tierney," she said. "She was completely covered."
Trudy Darden says her daughter ended up in a kneeling position and took the weight of the heavy shelter on her back.
“I know if she hadn’t fallen like that and taken the brunt of that, I’m sorry, it would have crushed both of us,” she said. “I’m not injured and I am able to walk away with only a few bruises because my daughter took the whole impact.”
On Friday, there was no trace of the shelter, save for a few holes where rusty brackets once held it in place. But a quick examination revealed three other shelters which were in such bad shape they could be moved by a reporter's bare hands.
In two cases, NBC5 found brackets snapped in two. Others appeared to have brand new hardware.
“If someone had done their job correctly, my sister would have walked away from this,” said Minniefield. “The fact that someone didn’t do their job and that these weren’t maintained, and to see them in that condition, makes me angry.”
Deputy Aviation Commissioner Owen Kilmer says the shelters are inspected “frequently.” He declined to discuss their condition further, citing the ongoing litigation.
“Safety and security for travelers and employees are the highest priority for the Chicago Department of Aviation,” Kilmer said.
But for Tierney Darden’s family, those assurances rang hollow.
“This is my daughter, who’s silly, and funny, and outgoing,” her mother said. “She wouldn’t stop dancing around in the bridesmaid’s dresses, and we’ll never see that again.”