Remembering Those That Passed Away on Amtrak Train 188

By @zachfeldman
Written on May 12, 2016

Today is the anniversary of the Amtrak Train 188 derailment 1 year ago. I was an unlucky passenger on that train, sustaining injuries while being tossed around in the Cafe Car, which flipped over on its side at 100 MPH.

The accident was clearly a life-altering event for me but I was lucky to walk away from it alive. Others weren’t as lucky. Today in Philadelphia there will be a ceremony honoring those who were taken last year and I’ll be sharing some information about each victim. Below are the words I’ll be using to do so.

Many times when we hear about accidents we simply hear about people that passed away in statistical format. Of 238 passengers and 5 crew, 8 were killed and 200 were injured.

I assure you that the people who pass away in any accident, including those that perished on Train 188 are much more than a number.

Each of them were leading lives cut short full of ambition and promise, taken from those that they loved too soon, and unfairly wrestled from those that needed them the most. I hope that by honoring their memories today this community can both acknowledge them for the lives they led and let their memories rest in peace.

I’d like to share some facts about each of the 8 people that lost their lives 1 year ago today.

Laura Finamore, 47, was born and raised in the Douglaston section of Queens, New York. A graduate of Benjamin Cardozo High School and George Washington University, she went on to work in the corporate real estate industry and was a senior account director at the real estate management firm Cushman & Wakefield in Manhattan. Laura will be remembered for her infectious laughter and generous spirit.

Jim Gaines, 48, was an Associated Press video software architect and father of two. Jim joined the AP in 1998 and was a key factor in nearly all of the news agency’s video initiatives, including the successful rollout of high-definition video and the AP’s Video Hub - a service that provides live video to hundreds of clients around the world. He was named the news agency’s “Geek of the Month” in May 2012 for his “tireless dedication and contagious passion” to technological innovation. In 2006, Jim’s team won the Chairman’s Prize for development of the agency’s Online Video Network.

Abid Gilani, 55, was a Wells Fargo executive, serving as senior vice president of its hospitality finance group. Before joining Wells Fargo, he worked for Marriott International in various positions, including chief financial officer. Abid, originally from Canada, was a husband and father of two who would commute across the country to Manhattan and return home to California each weekend to be with his family.

Bob Gildersleeve, 45, was a Vice President of the food-safety company Ecolab and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Bob worked for the company for 22 years, most recently as Vice President of Corporate Accounts for institutional business in North America. He resided in Elkridge, Maryland with his wife and two children.

Dr. Derrick Griffith, 42, was a dean of student affairs and enrollment management at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. He was a former school principal who founded the City University of New York Preparatory Transitional High School in 2003. Derrick also served as the executive director of Groundwork, Inc., an organization formed to support young people living in poor urban communities. A month before the accident, he received his Ph.D. in Urban Education from the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Rachel Jacobs, 39, was a leader in the worker-training and development industry. The mother of a two-year-old son, she had recently been named CEO of the Philadelphia educational software startup ApprenNet. Rachel was also a founder and board chairwoman at Detroit Nation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting startups in her Michigan hometown. She previously worked at McGraw-Hill, leading the international expansion of the company’s career-learning business.

Giuseppe Piras, 40, was a wine and olive oil executive from Sardinia, Italy. An avid cyclist who hailed from the town of Ittiri, he was an entrepreneur who co-founded an olive oil and wine cooperative and was in the U.S. to promote his business.

Justin Zemser, 20, was a student at the U.S. Naval Academy who hailed from Rockaway Beach, New York. He served as Vice President of the Jewish Midshipmen Club and played Wide Receiver on the Academy’s sprint football team. Outside of school, Justin interned for New York City Councilman Eric Ulrich and former Councilman James Sanders. At Channel View School for Research in New York, Justin was valedictorian, student government president, and captain of the football team.

Infectious laughter, tireless dedication, coming home each weekend to be with their family, commitment to the environment, supporting young people living in poor urban communities, chairing a nonprofit dedicated to supporting new companies in their hometown, producing and enjoying the fruits of the earth, and intense academic and athletic excellence.

All of these traits characterize the 8 passengers who lost their lives 1 year ago. May they rest in peace.

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