NYC Train Derailment Kills 4, Injuries Dozens

A Metro-North passenger train lies on its side after it derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
Associated Press + More

By DEEPTI HAJELA and VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City commuter train rounding a riverside curve derailed Sunday, killing four people and injuring more than 60 in a crash that threw some riders from toppling cars and swiftly raised questions about whether excessive speed, mechanical problems or human error could have played a role.

[PHOTOS: Chaotic Scene After Deadly Train Derailment]

Some of the roughly 150 passengers on the early morning Metro-North train from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan were jolted from sleep around 7:20 a.m. to screams and the frightening sensation of their compartment rolling over on a bend in the Bronx where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet. When the motion stopped, all seven cars and the locomotive had lurched off the rails, and the lead car was only inches from the water. It was the latest accident in a troubled year for the nation's second-biggest commuter railroad, which had never experienced passenger death in an accident in its 31-year history.

Joel Zaritsky was dozing as he traveled to a dental convention aboard the train. He woke up to feel his car overturning several times.

 

"Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming," he told The Associated Press, holding his bloody right hand. "There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train."

In their efforts to find passengers, rescuers shattered windows, searched nearby woods and waters and used pneumatic jacks and air bags to peer under wreckage. Crews planned to bring in cranes during the night to right the overturned cars on the slight chance anyone might still be underneath, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said.

The agency was just beginning its search into what caused the derailment, and Weener said investigators had not yet spoken to the train conductor, who was among the injured.

Meanwhile, thousands of people braced for a complicated Monday morning commute, with shuttle buses ferrying passengers to another line.

Investigators were due to examine factors ranging from the track condition to the crew's performance. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the track did not appear to be faulty, leaving speed as a possible culprit for the crash. The speed limit on the curve is 30 mph, compared with 70 mph in the area approaching it, Weener said.

Authorities did not yet know how fast the train was traveling but had found a data recorder, he said.

One passenger, Frank Tatulli, told WABC-TV that the train appeared to be going "a lot faster" than usual as it approached the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station.

Nearby residents awoke to a building-shaking boom. Angel Gonzalez was in bed in his high-rise apartment overlooking the rail curve when he heard the roar.

"I thought it was a plane that crashed," he said.

Mike Gallo heard the same noise as he was walking his dog. He looked down at the tracks, saw injured people climbing out of the train and "knew it was a tragedy right away."

Within minutes, dozens of emergency crews arrived and carried passengers away on stretchers, some wearing neck braces. Others, bloodied and scratched, held ice packs to their heads.

The MTA identified the victims Sunday as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh; James G. Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose; and Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens. Three of the dead were found outside the train, and one was found inside, authorities said. Autopsies were scheduled for Monday, said the New York City medical examiner's office.

Lovell, an audio technician, was traveling from his Cold Spring home to midtown Manhattan to work on the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, said longtime friend Janet Barton.

Eleven of the injured were believed to be critically wounded and another six seriously hurt, according to the Fire Department. After visiting an area hospital Sunday evening, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that the 11 who originally were critical no longer appeared to have life-threatening injuries.