xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Toll of Amtrak derailment comes into focus, even as answers remain out of reach

A search for answers turned to mourning Thursday for the family of an Elkridge man lost for days after the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, as officials announced the discovery of an eighth body amid the wreckage.

Bob Gildersleeve, a 45-year-old husband and father of two, was the latest victim identified in the crash.

Advertisement

In Annapolis, friends of Justin Zemser, a Naval Academy midshipman killed in the crash Tuesday night, gathered to remember a funny and talented classmate devoted to the traditions of the institution. And a Maryland congressman called for "a quick and timely investigation" for the grieving family of Abid Gilani, a Wells Fargo vice president who moved recently from Rockville.

"Trains should not derail in our country," Rep. Chris Van Hollen said. "Mr. Gilani's family, Marylanders, and all Americans deserve a quick and timely investigation, as well as swift action to ensure that this never happens again."

Advertisement

Still, as the human toll of the deadly derailment came into focus Thursday, questions remained about its cause.

An attorney for the train's engineer said his client suffered a concussion and does not remember the crash, but he was not using his phone or drugs or alcohol.

The train was traveling at more than 100 mph as it approached the curve where it derailed, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The curve was rated for a maximum of 50 mph.

The Philadelphia district attorney's office said it is investigating and will decide whether to bring charges.

Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman said limited service along the Northeast Corridor — the nation's busiest for passenger rail — would not be restored until Monday. He said full service would resume Tuesday.

Beyond Philadelphia, lawyers familiar with such disasters cautioned families that real answers could be a long time coming. The NTSB, which is leading the investigation, could take years to produce its findings — as it did in the case of the train derailment that killed two college women in Ellicott City in 2012.

"Right now the NTSB is in charge of the investigation and they will be until such time as they decide that they are not," said Dan Miller, a Baltimore attorney with experience litigating complex cases involving railways.

"People … have to be cognizant that this is a process that is going to take time," Miller said. "You have people who have died, you have hundreds injured, you have people in the area who it effects. It's a wide net that's getting wider and wider and wider."

Gildersleeve's family gathered in Philadelphia after the accident, passing out fliers with his photo and identifying him as missing as recently as Wednesday.

With the discovery of the body by the cadaver dog Thursday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said officials had accounted for all 238 passengers and five crew members who were believed to be aboard the train, which started in Washington and passed through Maryland on its way toward New York.

By Thursday evening, officials said, all eight of the dead had been identified.

Gildersleeve's death was confirmed by Doug Baker, chairman and CEO of Ecolab. Gildersleeve had worked at the Minnesota-based water, hygiene and technologies company for 22 years, most recently as vice president of corporate accounts for institutional business in North America out of offices in Towson.

Advertisement

"Bob was an exceptional leader and was instrumental to our success," Baker said. "We will greatly miss him, and our thoughts go out to his beloved family members and friends."

A family member declined to comment Thursday.

Chris Trado, a 53-year-old neighbor in Elkridge, said Gildersleeve was a friendly, active neighbor, husband and father to his two children — a 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

"He was a family-oriented man, always working on his house," Trado said. "A very nice man, always said 'Hello' when he went by."

Trado said that he and Gildersleeve both worked outside on their homes often.

"Whenever he needed help carrying something to his house and vice versa, we helped each other out," Trado said.

Midshipmen remembered Zemser, 20, by his nickname, "Z." They said he had been headed home to Rockaway Beach, N.Y., after helping drill underclassmen Tuesday morning in the academy's annual Sea Trials.

Zemser urged plebes through agility drills and sprints with heavy rope raised overhead. Some vomited.

Zemser, who was looking ahead toward a summer training with the Marine Corps, ran with them.

"He was all about it," said Midshipman James Lieto, another drill leader. "You'd look over and Justin was always smiling."

The family of Abid Gilani requested privacy, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said.

"It is with great sadness that Wells Fargo confirms that Abid Gilani, a valued member of our commercial real estate division, has passed away," the bank said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this tragedy."

Gilani worked at one time for Marriott International, headquartered in Bethesda, and his family still owns a home in Rockville, according to neighbors. They remembered the Gilanis as a tight-knit family.

Nutter said 43 people injured in the derailment remained hospitalized on Thursday afternoon. More than 200 people were injured in the crash.

The crash was the worst on the Northeast Corridor since 1987, when a Conrail freight engine collided with an Amtrak train, killing 16 and injuring 175.

Marc Rosen, an attorney who represented families of those killed and the survivors in that crash, said many ended up receiving multi-million dollar settlements.

Similar litigation is likely in this case, Rosen said, but "it's a process" that will likely involve a judicial panel created to handle litigation from multiple districts.

"It will be a feeding frenzy from the legal side and there will be paranoia from the families' side," he said. "People are going to feel like if they dont get involved in [the earliest filed cases] they are going to get left out. That is not the case."

John Cox, a deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, prosecuted the Conrail engineer who was held responsible for the 1987 Chase crash as one of his first cases in the office.

That engineer, Ricky L. Gates, pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

Cox said he could not speculate about whether Brandon Bostian, the engineer in Tuesday's crash, will face charges.

But he said the prosecutors will have much work to do learning the ins and outs of the Amtrak rail system before they make that decision — just as he and the other Baltimore County prosecutors did in 1987.

"There was so much that we needed to learn about the system and what it tells you if you go through a certain place," he said. "There's a signal system set up on the track that tells an engineer what he should or shouldn't do, so we were looking into whether that was something he saw or should've seen instead of taking the action that he did."

Others killed in the crash were Jim Gaines, 48, a video software architect for the Associated Press; Rachel Jacobs, 39, the CEO of startup ApprenNet; Derrick Griffith, 42, dean of student affairs and enrollment management at Medgar Evers College in New York; Laura Finamore, 47, a senior account director at the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield; and Giuseppe Piras, 41, a wine and olive oil executive from Sardinia, Italy, in the United States on business.

Advertisement

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Andrew Michaels and Tim Prudente, Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul McCardell and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Advertisement

twitter.com/rectorsun

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement