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Employee Files Lawsuit In Deadly Metro-North Derailment: ‘I Gotta Learn How To Relive Life’

Aftermath of the fatal Metro-North Railroad derailment, as seen from Chopper 880 on Dec. 2, 2013. (credit: Tom Kaminski/WCBS 880)

Aftermath of the fatal Metro-North Railroad derailment, as seen from Chopper 880 on Dec. 2, 2013. (credit: Tom Kaminski/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A Metro-North employee paralyzed in the deadly train derailment in the Bronx has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the railroad.

Metro-North heating and air conditioning mechanic Samuel Rivera, 39, was aboard the Manhattan-bound train on Dec. 1 when it derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station.

The lawsuit says Rivera suffered injuries including spinal cord damage that resulted in quadriplegia. Four people were also killed in the crash and 70 others were injured.

As WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane reported, Rivera was told that his body smashed into an overhead luggage rack but he said he only remembers flying through the air and waking and telling his son he didn’t think he was going to make it.

“He’s not bitter, he’s not feeling sorry for himself. He’s looking ahead,” attorney Gregory Cannata said.

Rivera is facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills each year due to his injuries, Cannata said.

“You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. Simple things like walking and hugging your kids,” Rivera said at a news conference at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains. “The fact that I can’t walk and pick up my daughter, stuff like that is just hard but like I said, you just got to move on and I basically gotta learn how to relive life.”

Rivera, speaking from a wheelchair, said he’s suing to protect his family’s financial future and that he forgives the man who was driving the train.

“I realized that I have to get stronger for my family, and I had to let go and move on. I couldn’t sit their holding grudges, cause holding grudges isn’t going to do anything for me. So pretty much I’ve just had to let go and move forward,” Rivera told 1010 WINS

He said he’d like to see mandatory restraints like seat belts on passenger trains.

Rivera has no movement of his legs and very little in his arms.

Last Friday, Eddie Russell, a retired NYPD police officer, sued Metro-North for $10 million.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority declined to comment on the suits.

Officials determined the train was going 82 mph as it approached a 30 mph zone leading into a curve near Spuyten Duyvil. The train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, told a union head he had “nodded” and zoned out just before the train derailed.

Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board said Rockefeller has “severe obstructive sleep apnea.” The NTSB did not say whether the engineer’s disorder contributed to the crash.

Apnea can disrupt normal sleep and result in sleepiness. The NTSB said Rockefeller had not been tested for the disorder before the derailment.

The report said a sleep study was ordered because Rockefeller “did not exactly recall events leading up to the accident.”

“I don’t know how to describe it,” Rockefeller told NTSB investigators two days after the incident happened. “It was sort of like I was dazed, you know – looking straight ahead; almost, like, mesmerized.”

The test found that while Rockefeller slept, he had about 65 “sleep arousals” per hour. Scientists say as few as five interruptions an hour can make someone chronically sleepy. The report said Rockefeller’s apnea apparently was undiagnosed before the accident.

The report also said Rockefeller’s blood and urine tests after the accident revealed small amounts of aspirin and an over-the-counter antihistamine that carries a warning that it could impair the ability to drive.

The report notes that Rockefeller’s work schedule had recently changed from late night to early-morning shifts. The NTSB said determination of a cause would come in its final report.

The NTSB also noted that sleep apnea is not mentioned in Metro-North’s medical guidelines. Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan said the railroad was reviewing the documents.

In the aftermath of the crash, federal regulators and lawmakers pushed for Metro-North to install alert systems in all trains to prevent similar accidents.

The railroad has implemented some new safety protocols, including more speed limit signage and automatic speed reduction technology.

Joseph Giulietti took over as Metro-North president earlier this year and has stressed safety as the top priority.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)