Families of eight Amtrak crash victims mourn loved ones

They were a ‘geek’s geek’, ‘wonderful’ mother, devoted to family and friends – and all died tragically Tuesday night in the nation’s deadliest train crash in years

Just outside of Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, Amtrak Northeast Regional train 188 careened off the tracks on Tuesday night after speeding through a bend at more than 100mph. Eight people were killed in the crash and more than 200 injured.


James Marshall Gaines III was a 48-year-old Associated Press journalist on his way home to Plainsboro, New Jersey, from meetings in Washington DC while aboard train 188, the Associated Press reported.

Gaines leaves behind a 16-year-old son, Oliver, an 11-year-old daughter, Anushka, and his wife Jacqueline.

Gaines worked as a staffer with the news agency for 17 years, his colleagues fondly referring to him as a “geek’s geek”, in the wire’s announcement of his death. In 2012, Gaines won the Geek of the Month award for his “tireless dedication and contagious passion”. He worked as a video architect for the agency.

“[Gaines] leaves behind a legacy of professionalism and critical accomplishment, kindness and humor,” AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt told employees in an email, the AP reported. “He will be missed.”


Justin Zemser, 20, was a US naval academy midshipman living in Annapolis, Maryland, when he was killed in the crash. The recruit from Far Rockaway, New York, was the valedictorian of his high school, described as “only a child” by his parents.

“He was a loving son, nephew and cousin, who was very community minded,” his parents said in a statement to Yeshiva World News. “This tragedy has shocked us in the worst way and we wish to spend this time grieving with our close family and friends.”

Zemser was on his way home to Far Rockaway on leave when he was killed. His funeral on Friday included full military honors and was attended by 150 classmates.


Rachel Jacobs
Rachel Jacobs Photograph: AP

Rachel Jacobs, 39, was the chief executive of ApprenNet, an education company that focused on addressing a shortage of highly skilled workers using technology and apprentice-style learning.

Jacobs’s family described her as a “wonderful” mother, daughter, sister and wife in a statement to the Washington Post.

“She was devoted to her family, her community and the pursuit of social justice. We cannot imagine life without her,” her family said in a statement to the Post.

Jacobs is the daughter of the former Michigan senator Gilda Jacobs. She grew up in the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She leaves behind a husband and two-year-old son in New York City.


Derrick Griffith, 42, was dean of student affairs and enrollment management for Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. He was confirmed dead Wednesday night by a college spokeswoman.

The school called Griffith a “pillar of the community” and a “champion for the downtrodden”. He had worked in education for 10 years, the school said, including as a high school principal and founder of CUNY Preparatory transitional high school. He also served as the executive director of Groundwork Inc, a youth organization meant to empower young people living in high-poverty areas.

“Even as he was encouraging young people to reach for greater heights for themselves, he was working to attain his own educational goals,” the school said. One month ago, he Griffith was granted a PhD of of philosophy in urban education by the City University of New York.


Robert Gildersleeve was a Baltimore-based 45-year-old vice-president of Ecolab’s corporate accounts, a water sanitation company. He was a married father of two children, a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son.

“Bob was an exceptional leader and was instrumental to our success,” said Ecolab CEO Doug Baker in a statement. “We will greatly miss him, and our thoughts go out to his beloved family members and friends.” Neighbors described Gildersleeve as an active man who often spent time working on his house, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Gildersleeve worked for Ecolab for 22 years, and also had an office in St Paul, Minnesota, the company spokesman told TwinCities.com. Gildersleeve was the last victim to be found from the wreckage of train 188. His family had traveled to Philadelphia to look for him, before he was found by authorities.


Abid Gilani was a 55-year-old Wells Fargo executive who split his time between Washington DC and New York. Originally from Canada, the executive previously worked for Marriott and Scotia Capital at Scotiabank, according to CBC.

“It is with great sadness that Wells Fargo confirms that Abid Gilani, a valued member of our commercial real estate division, has passed away,” Elise Wilkinson said in a statement emailed to CBC.

Gilani was a married father of two, CBC reported according to his wife.

“He’ll be sorely missed ... he was really a wonderful person,” she said. The Gilanis also spent time in San Francisco and Rockville, Maryland, according to the Associated Press.


Laura Finamore
Laura Finamore Photograph: Curtesy of Finamore Family

Laura Finamore was a 47-year-old Manhattan resident, returning to New York from a memorial service for a college friend’s mother, the Associated Press reported. She was a senior account director for the corporate real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield in Manhattan.

Her family called her a “tenacious deal maker” and a “competitor”.

“Laura’s smile could light up a room and her infectious laughter will be remembered by many for years to come,” her family said in a statement to Newsday. Finamore was raised in the Douglastown neighborhood of Queens, the newspaper reported. “She was always there when you needed her – with a hug, encouraging words or a pat on the back.”

Finamore is survived by her parents, three brothers and seven nieces and nephews.


Giuseppe Piras was 41-year-old wine and olive oil executive from from the Sassari province in Italy, the Italian news outlet Repubblica reported. He was in the United States on business.

The Italian consulate in Philadelphia confirmed that Piras was among the victims, the Associated Press reported.

Piras, who hailed from the town of Ittiri on the Mediterranean island, co-founded an olive oil and wine cooperative and was tasked with marketing its goods for export, the AP reported according to Italian media.

Consul general Andrea Canepari said his family had contacted consulate officials in the US after they were unable to reach Piras by phone.


Jessica Glenza and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Paul Ryan says Amtrak spending cuts not to blame in Philadelphia crash
Congressman says question should not be part of conversation day after officials order train company to install new safety system

Martin Pengelly in New York

17, May, 2015 @9:28 PM

Article image
Amtrak crash: state-of-the art safety gear was operational at time of fatal collision
Positive train control system was ‘functioning’ at site of Sunday crash that killed two workers, but did not slow locomotive or alert engineer of maintenance ahead

Gregg Levine

06, Apr, 2016 @6:44 PM

Article image
Amtrak crash: safety mechanism to slow speeding trains was close to operational
Positive train control system was simply awaiting authorization to use private airwaves that would have made transponders along train’s route operational

Jessica Glenza in New York

15, May, 2015 @8:19 PM

Article image
Amtrak ordered to improve safety and increase speed limit signage
According to investigators, train was traveling at about 106mph as it approached a left-hand turn where it then derailed on Tuesday

Jana Kasperkevic in New York

16, May, 2015 @8:13 PM

Article image
Seven injured as Amtrak train derails in Vermont after striking rock slide
Train was traveling to Washington DC when it derailed in the town of Northfield at about 10.30am, and there were no reports of life-threatening injuries

Ellen Brait and Mahita Gajanan in New York and agencies

05, Oct, 2015 @4:38 PM

Article image
Three dead after Amtrak train hits truck in California
Three men were killed instantly when an Amtrak passenger train hit their truck as they tried to take a shortcut across the tracks

Nicky Woolf in San Francisco

13, May, 2016 @11:47 PM

Article image
Amtrak crash victims being identified as driver's name emerges
Lawyer tells TV network that Brandon Bostian, 39, cannot remember moment of derailment in which seven people died and more than 200 were injured

Jessica Glenza in Philadelphia, Jana Kasperkevic and Joanna Walters in New York, Warren Murray and agencies

14, May, 2015 @10:48 AM

Article image
Amtrak Philadelphia train crash: mayor describes 'disastrous mess'
FBI says no indication that terrorism was a factor in Philadelphia derailment that killed at least six and left another six critically injured

Jana Kasperkevic and Joanna Walters in New York, Matthew Weaver in London and agencies

13, May, 2015 @2:42 PM

Article image
Amtrak crash survivors recount 'awful' moments as train careened off tracks
Passengers describe how they ‘flew across the train’ as it sped at 100mph around a curve: ‘It did not feel like the kind of thing you could walk away from’

Chris McGreal

14, May, 2015 @12:29 PM

Article image
Amtrak train reportedly going 106mph into turn at time of crash
Death toll rises to seven with eight more critically injured amid ‘devastating scene’ as rescuers search for more survivors and bodies

Joanna Walters and Jana Kasperkevic in New York and Jessica Glenza in Philadelphia

13, May, 2015 @10:14 PM