This is not something you get away from

I am at home and on the mend, hobbling around slowly but glad to be up and around. My knee is immobilized for at least ten days. Thanks for all the kind words. People obviously have a lot of questions.

I was in the first car of the Hoboken crash, about eight rows from the front, on the left side. I stayed conscious through the wreck and aftermath. I knew something was wrong as we entered the station at high speed. There was a big bump, the lights went out and I felt the rumbling as we left the rails. People ask what was going through my head. At no point did my life flash before my eyes. My first thought was “this is a train crash, duck and cover.” I tucked my head down against the seat in front of me, put my hands over my head, and closed my eyes. My next thought was “this is not something you get away from.” The roof of my car was destroyed along with the roof of the station, and the car was filled with sheet metal and insulation from both. My seat back was destroyed, but the seat in front of me was intact and shielded me from the worst damage. Sheet metal caused a deep gash in my knee and my forearm, sheared off my thumb nail, and lacerated my neck from my ear to my throat. The first six or so rows were mostly buried in the wreckage. I heard someone kicking out a window on the right side of the car beyond where I could see, and some passengers in the first few rows may have been able to get out that way. Another passenger pulled the emergency handle on the nearest window to me, and we tried to push out the window but we could not get it dislodged. I remember apologizing that I could not get the window out. People were panicking, I kept reassuring one woman in the row ahead of me that we were going to get out. I was able to lift the metal out of the way enough so people could crawl through. I remember telling people to go slow because of the sharp edges. I realized that it was my blood on the metal I was holding, I think I said something like “is that my blood?” Something started pulling on my leg and I shouted “stop pulling that, it’s got me.” A woman in the row behind me said “it’s just my purse” and I disentangled my leg and handed the purse to her, picking up my backpack then as well. She was the last person to crawl through, and she looked at me before she left, as if to ask how I was going to get through. I told her don’t worry, just go. I crawled through the metal last, with flashlights of the first responders illuminating the way out. I remember calling out “I am coming, I am injured.” The rear half of the car appeared to be mostly intact. I left through the stairs at the rear exit of the car. Aside from people who might have been stuck at the very front of the car, I didn’t see any other passengers in the car at that time.

While I fumbled with my phone, I looked at the wreck briefly from the platform, which didn’t register as a train or a station anymore. I called my wife at 8:43 and told her I had survived the crash, but that I was injured and that I wasn’t sure yet how badly. She didn’t process it at first, she said “What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense.” I repeated myself and told her I would try to call her again in five minutes, after I found an EMT. I asked an NJ Transit worker where the EMTs were and was told to go to the terminal’s waiting room. I didn’t see any help there so I walked outside and found an NJ Transit police officer who told me to sit down and wait there for the EMTs. I sat and tried to slow the bleeding from my hand and forearm. I sent an email to my team at work at 8:50 telling them that I had survived the crash. A bystander offered me a handkerchief to wrap my hand, and then continually checked with the police officer for the status of the ambulances, reminding him that I was losing a lot of blood. The police officer told me that my arm looked like a compound fracture (but it actually wasn’t fractured, just deeply lacerated). People were going into shock all around. I called my wife again at 8:51 to tell her that I was waiting for the EMTs but had not found them yet.

There was one thing that unnerved me: the number of cameras. I know that there were people who took pictures of me (like the one attached) but did not offer help. I don’t understand what makes a person think that is the way people are supposed to act in a situation like this. Plenty of other people did offer help to me and the other injured who were sitting and laying on the sidewalk nearby. Many people offered water, or asked if they could call someone for me (for future reference, this is a great thing to do, it is very hard to operate a phone when injured and in shock). But I had already called my wife so I told them all the same thing: find the EMTs, get us an ambulance.

Another first responder named Bev arrived to take my contact information and stay with me until the ambulance arrived. I realized I was about to black out and laid down on the ground with my leg elevated on top of my backpack. I remember thinking “oh, this is how you end up dying, bleeding to death on the ground waiting for the ambulance.” Other NJ Transit employees arrived to help. Bev and the others covered me with blankets and their own coats and talked with me. I stayed conscious throughout. Two doctors on their way to work arrived to help, one was Brian Koll, another was named Henry (I think). They wrapped my leg and arm to slow the bleeding and the ambulance arrived shortly after, though it was probably the longest twenty minutes of my life. I called my wife at 9:13, which is when I think the EMTs put me in the ambulance. I was taken to Hoboken University Medical Center with another man, who had head trauma but was still conscious. The EMTs told me that my leg was almost tourniquet worthy, but they left it wrapped up and got us to the ER quickly.

At the hospital my blood pressure crashed from blood loss, but I recovered without a transfusion. It was one of those TV show ER scenes where I was shaking violently and surrounded by doctors and nurses. I remember thinking again “oh, of course, this is how you die, bleeding to death in the hospital.” That was the last truly scary incident of the day. I remained conscious until they put me under for surgery. My knee had ligament, arterial, and membrane damage, and I have been told that the surgery went well. I also got stitches on my neck, forearm, thumb, and middle finger. I’m able to get around very slowly on crutches while my knee is immobilized for at least ten days. I am very happy to be home with my family. There were three times on Thursday when I thought I might never see them again. I get choked up thinking about all of the first responders, NJ Transit workers, police, bystanders, EMTs, hospital staff, nurses, and doctors, who gave a little or a lot to save my life.

Of all the things that happened, in the end I am most furious with the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who has made a career of dismantling major transit projects and reducing capital investments in New Jersey’s public transit systems. Under Christie’s watch, our transit system has failed to secure the funds to implement train safety measures like Positive Train Control, a federally mandated safety technology that could have prevented this accident. In addition, Governor Christie has used this crisis as a cover to raise the gasoline tax while massively cutting taxes for the wealthy by eliminating the NJ estate tax. I have little doubt that whatever money is raised to implement the long overdue train safety measures will instead be rerouted strictly to Christie’s political benefit. And once again, our self-proclaimed fiscally responsible governor will have blown such incredible holes in the budget that New Jersey will continue to leave critical safety measures unimplemented. I heard that Christie took a break from the Trump campaign to strike this “deal.” We would all be better off if he just left the governing to someone who prefers to govern rather than campaign. Governor Christie saw this crisis as nothing more than a photo op and a chance to empty the cash register.

Today, right now, is when this horrible accident can go from senseless to meaningful. Hold your leaders accountable. Do not let the governor use this accident to enrich his friends and punish his enemies. The New Jersey Transportation Budget can be replenished without ransacking the tax base. Even if you are not a commuter, I want you to remember this. One day, this could be your problem, on the way to the Giants game, on that holiday when you go to see your family, or the next time you take the train to the airport.

This piece originally appeared on my Facebook page. A few days later, an edited version appeared in the Washington Post, entitled “I survived the Hoboken train wreck. It scares me to think it could happen again.