The two men killed early Sunday morning when an Amtrak passenger train collided with a CSX freight train in Lexington County were Amtrak employees Michael Kempf and Michael Cella.
“We should have had a lot more casualties, but we didn’t,” said Lexington County coroner Margaret Fisher, who identified the dead at an afternoon news conference. “When you consider a train that size and how many people were there, you would expect more fatalities just because they are trains, but God blessed us and we only had the two, not that they were in any diminished because they were very, very hard.”
Kempf, 54 of Savannah, Ga., was the train’s engineer.
Cella, 36 of Orange Park, Fla., was the train’s conductor.
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Both were in the first car of the train at the time of the collision, Fisher said.
“I have been busy taking care of their families,” said Fisher, tears welling in her eyes. “They are very distraught, very shocked as anybody would be in this situation. We are working with them to make sure they are taken care of.”
Cella is survived by his wife, Christine, and two children.
“He was all about his family,” said Michael Callanan, a rail safety expert who once worked alongside Cella. Callanan was hired as a conductor at Amtrak in 2008, and posted to Jacksonville along with Cella.
“He was super-nice, always had a smile on his face,” Callanan said. “He was soft-spoken and eager to learn.”
Fisher described the early morning scene as “chaotic for a little while” but praised the response of Lexington County officials.
“It was a tough scene of course,” Fisher said. “Anytime there is a death on the scene, it’s tough for everybody involved.”
There were eight crew members and approximately 139 passengers on board when an Amtrak train collided with a parked CSX freight train.
There were 116 people taken to local hospitals with various injuries.
This is the second fatal Amtrak crash in a week and the third in the last few months. Three people were killed in Washington State in December when an Amtrak train crashed there.
“It’s angering when it happens to someone you know,” Callanan said. “Now his kids will grow up without a dad. Why did this have to happen?”
The State’s Bristow Marchant contributed.