Dr. Denise Williams Was Headed To Dental Convention, Attorney Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Attorneys for one of the passengers on the Metro-North train that derailed in the Bronx this past weekend has announced plans to file a lawsuit against the railroad.

Four people were killed and more than 60 were injured when the Hudson Line train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station Sunday morning. Among the injured was Dr. Denise Williams, a dentist and retired army colonel.

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Attorney Michael S. Lamonsoff announced Tuesday that on behalf of Williams, he had filed the first claim with the Metro-North legal department to begin the process of legal action.

Williams was on her way to a dentist convention at the Jacob Javits Convention Center when the train derailed, the attorney said in a news release.

“Dr. Williams found herself strewn amongst the wreckage of the train and pinned by protruding trees on the banks of the Hudson River. While thousands of pounds of steel pressed against her body, rescue workers worked to extract her from the scene,” Lamonsoff said in the release.

Williams spoke with CBS 2 shortly before being wheeled in for back surgery at NewYork Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center. She had suffered a fractured spine.

“It was going fast. What I felt was a derailment and I felt this noise, a bumpy, bumpy noise,” she said Sunday night.

Williams’ family rushed to her side at NewYork Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center, but to their surprise, someone was already there watching over her. Steven Ciccone, a celebrity pastry chef who has cerebral palsy, rushed to the aid of Williams and others when the train derailed.

Ciccone spoke to CBS 2 from his own hospital bed.

“You know, I just spoke to her and held her hand asked her what was wrong. She asked, ‘You know, could you do something for my head? Could you make it more comfortable?’” he said. “I was crocheting a scarf and I had a ball of yarn, so I used the ball of yarn to support underneath her neck like a pillow.”

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Later in the hospital, CBS 2 caught up with Ciccone as he prepared for his own exams, his mind again focused on others. He sent a message to Williams.

“All right, Denise, you’ll hang in there,” Ciccone said. “And I’m praying for you, and I love you.”

Williams’ family hailed Ciccone as a hero. He was also mentioned in the news release about the lawsuit.
“Rather than viewing the latest advancements in dentistry with her colleagues, Dr. Williams found herself wondering if she would ever walk again, see her family again, or even continue her life. Only the words of ‘Steven’ and the tireless efforts of the rescue workers helped distract Dr. Williams from just how dire her situation was,” the attorney’s release said. “Now, Dr. Williams lies in a New York City hospital with rods and screws inserted into her fractured back amongst other injuries. She remains a devastated victim of a senseless and preventable tragedy.”

The attorney claimed the Metro-North Railroad had been guilty of many of “instances of negligence” in the past year, including the derailment of a freight train hauling garbage near the scene of the Sunday morning derailment close to the Spuyten Duyvil station.

Lamonsoff has also filed lawsuits in connection with the May Metro-North derailment and collision in Bridgeport, Conn., which left 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor injured.

“There are many questions that need to be answered. Why did Metro-North allow their tracks to fall into disarray, including the failure to remove tracks over a hundred years old? Why hasn’t Metro-North fully complied with the Railway Safety Improvement Act of 2008?” the attorney’s release said. “Why wasn’t PTC (Positive Train Control, a safeguard against excessive speed) installed in this locomotive? Would it have prevented this accident? Most disturbingly, how many commuters will become senseless victims before Metro-North makes safety their first priority?”

Earl Weener, a board member with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tuesday that positive train control may have prevented the derailment. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it began work on PTC on the Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road in 2009, and has budgeted nearly $600 million for it since.

But implementing PTC by the planned 2015 deadline will be difficult, as much of the technology for it remains underdeveloped and untested for major commuter railroads, the MTA said.

Four people were killed, and more than 60 were injured, in the derailment Sunday morning.

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