Crime & Courts

Amtrak conductor’s widow suing CSX and Amtrak for negligence

Aerial footage of wreckage from Amtrak collision near Cayce, SC

See the Amtrak train crash from the air by Charleston Highway captured by drone. The train crash occurred on Feb. 4, 2018 that resulted in two deaths and critical injuries for over 100 passengers on board.
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See the Amtrak train crash from the air by Charleston Highway captured by drone. The train crash occurred on Feb. 4, 2018 that resulted in two deaths and critical injuries for over 100 passengers on board.

The widow of the Amtrak train conductor has filed suit against Amtrak and CSX in the wake of Sunday’s fatal train crash in Cayce.

Christine Cella, widow of Amtrak conductor Michael Cella, has sued CSX Transportation Inc. and Amtrak for negligence in a suit filed Thursday in Duval County Circuit Court in Jacksonville, Fla, according to a release sent by Cella’s attorney Howard Spier.

Christine Cella, and her two children, live in Orange Park, Fla., a suburb of Jacksonville.

The suit alleges 28 specific instances of negligence against CSX and nine against Amtrak, according to the release. It faults both CSX and Amtrak for failing to discover or warn the crew of the disabled signal and switch and take appropriate cautionary measures. The suit comes down particularly hard on CSX for numerous alleged failures in training and procedures.

Because of the negligence, the suit alleges, Michael Cella “was forced to endure the horrendous fear of his pending demise as the Amtrak Train approached the deadly collision point thereby giving rise to great conscious pain and suffering in the moments prior to collision and subsequently suffered a wrongful death as a result of his fatal wound suffered in the alleged incident.”

This was the second lawsuit filed following the fatal crash. Earlier Thursday, an Amtrak passenger filed a lawsuit against CSX alleging the crash in Lexington County was caused by “gross negligence” and “reckless disregard” of safety standards.

Michael Cella SUBMITTED

Michael Cella, 36, and Michael Kempf, 54, were killed early Sunday morning when an Amtrak passenger train ran off the main track, smashing into a parked CSX freight train. The wreck was caused by a railroad switch locked in the wrong position, federal investigators said.

More than 100 people were injured in the wreck, with some still being treated in Midlands hospitals. The damage to train cars is estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

“This lawsuit comes at a time when the railroad industry faces a national crisis of confidence in its ability to keep passengers and crews safe,” said Spier, who works out of Miami and has a history of litigation specializing in railroad safety. “Promoting and strengthening a culture of safety are critical in any discussion of America’s infrastructure.”

The two-count negligence suit alleges that the southbound Amtrak Passenger Train 91 “was improperly and unexpectedly diverted into a side track known as the Silica Siding by means of a mainline switch which, at all times material thereto, was negligently and recklessly misaligned and locked in the reverse position towards the Silica Siding and away from the mainline track by one or more employees.”

The suit alleges that Jacksonville-based CSX “deliberately disabled and/or suspended the track side signals along its S-line in the area where the Amtrak train was traveling immediately prior to the alleged incident, thereby causing a portion of the S-line to be converted to dark territory,” a section of track not controlled by signals.

While the train was removed from signals, the suit says, “the operating crew of the Amtrak Train was without the benefit of any track side signals or positive train control (PTC), a system that if implemented could have likely prevented the two trains in this case from colliding.”

“One never completely heals from this kind of loss, but we look forward to joining others as passionate advocates in holding railroads and our nation’s transportation system accountable for the safety of passengers, crews, and communities,” Christine Cella said in a statement.

Cella was passionate about his job and proud of his family, said Michael Callanan, a rail expert and Cella’s former coworker.

“You could tell by the pictures he was posting on his Facebook (page), he was just all about his family,” Callanan said while fighting back tears over the phone. “I’m sorry. It’s just sad. He was all about his family and he was so proud to put these pictures on Facebook, and every picture he had he was smiling with his wife and his children. He was a proud father and a proud husband.”

Listen to various 911 phone calls made in late-night hours from passengers who were aboard the Amtrak train crash that happened on Feb. 4, 2018 in Cayce, SC.