PHILADELPHIA – Robert Hewett was texting his wife, Judy, about vacation plans from his seat in the front car of Amtrak Train 188 on May 12, 2015, headed home from a work trip when the car started to tip.
He remembers being thrown from his seat and hitting the luggage rack before crashing headlong into another passenger. When he regained consciousness, Hewett was on a pile of rocks, unable to move. First responders eventually found him and transported him to a Philadelphia hospital, where he would spend the next seven weeks in a medically-induced coma.
On the anniversary of the derailment, Hewett said Thursday that the past year of his life — an endless series of doctors’ appointments, physical therapy and nightmares — has been “terrible.”
“I have pain 24/7,” he told reporters at a press conference through laboured breaths, explaining that his rib cage has not fully healed and that his lungs cannot fully expand. “The two outcomes for me were paralyzed for life, or death.”
The 58-year-old BASF regional security officer spent another seven weeks in a rehabilitation centre. He was among more than 200 people injured in the crash, which also killed eight people. The New York-bound Northeast Regional train entered a sharp curve at 106 mph — more than twice the speed limit — before careening off the tracks.
Next week, federal investigators are scheduled to meet to detail the probable cause of the derailment in Philadelphia. They’ve said the evidence showed no issues with the tracks, signals or the locomotive and they didn’t find any signs that the train had been stuck by a rock or that the engineer was using his cellphone.
The railroad has apologized for the crash and an emotional Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman told Congress afterward that Amtrak was responsible. The train’s engineer has said he couldn’t explain why the train kept accelerating after he applied the brake.
Hewett said he plans to watch the hearing on television from his home in New Jersey. He said no one from Amtrak, including the train’s engineer, has apologized or contacted him since the crash.
“This was something that never had to happen,” he said. “His actions could have been easily prevented.”
Hewett said he won’t take the train anymore. Joined by his wife and daughter Thursday, he said he is hoping to reunite with the first responders who rescued him at a private ceremony in Philadelphia to mark the anniversary.