Feds probing deadly train crash

Accident took life of local mom, injured 108

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday that it has started an investigation into the bizarre train crash in the Hoboken train terminal on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 29 that took the life of young Hoboken mother Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34. In the 8:45 a.m. accident, a commuter train coming from suburban counties in New York and New Jersey failed to stop at the terminus of the Pascack Valley rail line, instead plowing through the concrete toward the waiting room. De Kroon, who had dropped off her 18-month-old daughter at day care and headed to the station to commute to work, was killed by debris. More than 100 people, many on the train, were injured in the crash.
The train’s engineer survived and was being questioned at Jersey Medical Center last week, where he was treated for his injuries and released.
Hours after the tragic crash, which drew international media coverage, Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on the waterfront to confirm several details. But as of press time on Friday morning, no one had answers on how such an unusual crash happened or whether the driver was at fault.
The historic Erie Lackawanna Train Terminal, built in 1907, suffered damage to the beams and roof. NJ Transit trains from the suburbs were not operating on Friday morning. PATH trains and Hudson Bergen Light Rail trains were operating, but the track on which the crash occurred was shielded from passing commuters’ view.
The NTSB investigation of the crash could take up to 18 months before a final report stating the probable cause and safety recommendations, Public Affairs spokesperson Christopher O’Neil said in a phone interview on Friday.
He said the NTSB plans to be on site for seven to 10 days with a preliminary report of facts likely released 10 days after leaving the scene.
As of Friday morning, according to O’Neil, the NTSB had yet to interview train engineer Thomas Gallagher, 48. They were able to retrieve the data recorder at the back of the train that contains operational information.
Gallagher, a 29-year NJ Transit employee, is cooperating with authorities, Christie said at the Thursday press conference at Pier A Park.
The terminal is a main hub for commuters from the suburbs to get to connecting trains to New York City or other points in New Jersey.
This was the second crash of NJ Transit equipment in the area last week. Monday, two NJ Transit buses collided in the Lincoln Tunnel, injuring approximately 40 people, when one driver allegedly made an illegal lane change in the path of another bus.

Fabiola de Kroon

Many young people move to Hoboken for its ease of transportation and its convenience for young families. Bittar de Kroon, a native of Brazil, had lived on the west side of Hoboken for about a year. Her husband was out of town for work Thursday, but rushed back when he was told of the accident, and he was able to pick up their daughter at day care.
Bittar de Kroon was on her way to work in Brooklyn. Previously, she had worked in the legal department of SAP, an international software company. Andy Kendzie, spokesman for SAP, said last week that the company was “profoundly saddened and shaken be the news of the train crash.”
Chief Ken Ferrante of the Hoboken Police Department said Friday that he, along with Lt John Orrico and Officer James Barbro, spoke to Bittar de Kroon’s husband, Daan de Kroon, at 9 p.m. Thursday night. Originally from Holland, Daan was on a business trip in Massachusetts before returning home.

“Guys on their hands and knees were trying to get people out.” –Michael Larson
Ferrante said they spoke for about an hour and that he had assigned officers to protect the family’s privacy during their time of grief, including a mandate to “keep media out of the building.” He said that news reporters were at the family’s house on the west side of town Friday morning, waiting for a comment.
“I had a beautiful, clever daughter and I have a wonderful granddaughter,” said Sueli Bittar, the victim’s mother, to the New York Daily News last week. “Her husband is a wonderful guy. I don’t know what to tell you because it’s very hard for us now. It’s very sad.”

Eyewitness accounts

On Thursday morning, Michael Larson, a NJ Transit employee, showed the blood on his right jeans leg as he described what he saw inside the terminal. “Basically, the first half of the first car is destroyed,” he said.
He added that the roof was collapsed and “guys on their hands and knees were trying to get people out.” He had assisted in helping three or four of the passengers himself. He said the train floor was “covered in blood.”
Larson said that through his year of working at NJ Transit he had never seen anything like this and that it was “unbelievable” to watch.
“I heard a crackling noise, then the lights flickered, and I heard a very large crash,” said Tom Spina, of Raritan, N.J. At the time of the crash Spina was talking to a customer service representative because he had arrived at the terminal by accident after missing his transfer at Secaucus Junction.
Spina said that Port Authority employees were there in minutes and immediately started getting people out of the train through doors in the back cars and through the emergency windows in the front car.
He said that his first thought was “with all the [terrorist] craziness going on… It could’ve been a bomb.”
Spina offered his shirt to a woman who was shaking. He held her arm and sat with her until her father arrived.
According to Jarrod Bernstein, spokesman for Hoboken University Medical Center, the hospital received 23 patients, all but two of whom were sent home. He said the majority of injuries were lacerations, bumps, and fractures and that the hospital was prepared for five times the amount of victims it received.
“We drill for this on a monthly basis,” said Bernstein.
According to Bernstein, the hospital runs a triage drill in which the staff rush to the emergency department from other areas of the hospital ready to treat large numbers of incoming patients in times of a disaster.
The Hoboken terminal was the site of its own triage center back on Sept. 11, 2001, when many commuters were brought there by ferry after the World Trade Center attacks.

Community support

Upon hearing of the accident, local businesses wanted to lend a hand.
Bean Vault Coffee, located a block away at 1 Newark St., brought coffee and bagels to first responders. Pela German, the establishment’s barista, said she and her boss went to the terminal as soon as they heard.
German said they found out about the crash when a “random customer came in and asked us if we knew why people were crying and on the phone.”
German said she and her boss passed out coffee “just to help and come together…it was a long day for them.”
According to Twitter, Tony Baloney’s, a pizza and sandwich restaurant at First Street and Willow Avenue, also brought pizza to authorities at the terminal.
Honeygrow, which serves locally sourced salads and stirfry at 120 Washington St., brought bread, fruit, granola, and water. According to Angelo Turano, general manager of the restaurant, they found out about the accident when one the employees who takes public transportation to work informed them “he just missed the accident.”
Turano said he and the other employees were discussing what to bring when his boss Justin Rosenberg called in and told them to “take whatever you want and drop it off at headquarters at the terminal.”
Hudson Bike Share offered free rides until midnight on their bicycles, and UberNJ offered free rides from the terminal as well.
In the press conference on Thursday, Christie said that after hurricanes Irene and Sandy and the recent terrorist attacks, both he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, their staff, and the residents of New Jersey and New York had been tested and become resilient.
Christie said, “That regular commuters left the safety of where they were standing to rush to the train to help first responders evacuate injured people off the train. This region has developed a resilience that is admired by the rest of the world.”

Not a blessing

Cuomo said, “When you see the destruction up close, the silver lining is that there has only been one fatality thus far because the destruction really is significant and the power of the train coming in is obviously devastating in its impact.”
But Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said she failed to see any silver lining in the tragedy because a Hoboken resident lost her life, and that her biggest concern is for the victim’s family.
Zimmer said, “All first responders coming together and helping our victims, that’s really what’s most important. But as mayor of Hoboken, my heart goes out to the family of the victim. It’s a Hoboken resident that we lost today and really my biggest concern is thinking about that family.”
Zimmer called the damage heartbreaking.
In a letter posted to Twitter Friday Sept 30, Zimmer reflected on the day, stating the tragedy of the life lost and the timely response of first responders.
She said “we take comfort knowing that our community has good Samaritans, many of whom immediately assisted the injured after the crash.”
“It was inspiring to hear of … fellow commuters who carried a pregnant women through a train window to safety, or the story recounted to me by one of the victims in the hospital of how he was cared for by a complete stranger in the terminal who stayed with him and alerted his family members of his condition until he was safely in an ambulance.”
Zimmer also thanked residents and businesses for donating their time.
“Our city is strong because of the resilience of our residents, and nowhere was this better demonstrated then during yesterday’s tragedy,” said Zimmer.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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