SEATTLE – A man who survived the December 2017 deadly train derailment in Pierce County announced a lawsuit against Amtrak on Thursday.
Rudy Wetzel, 81, claims Amtrak used the train despite knowing it had electrical failure.
“This should not have happened to me,” said Wetzel. “I'm 81-years-old and I was so proud of myself that I could do these things I could walk and so forth and now I`m sort of pushing a cart and I`m not supposed to pick up more than 20 pounds.”
Wetzel crawled out of his mangled train car before being rescued by first responders.
On Thursday, Wetzel and his attorney claim a whistleblower said one of the Amtrak locomotives had a problem but didn’t take it out of service or fix the issue before the trip.
“They have a high, high responsibility to ensure that they transport the public safely and efficiently,” said attorney Jim Vucinovich.
The new lawsuit claims the train suffered an electrical failure but was still allowed to carry passengers. Also, the lawsuit claims the locomotive in the rear wasn’t properly connected, which means the train’s breaking system may not have been fully operational.
“There was a conscious decision to delink that rear unit and allow the train to proceed as it did and the consequences of that decision is going to affect everybody,” said Vucinovich.
After the crash, an engineer told investigators he miscalculated the train’s location before it careened onto I-5. The NTSB is still investigating the crash that killed three passengers and injured dozens more.
The new lawsuit also alleges Amtrak failed to supervise or properly train its employees, or enable positive train control, which is supposed to keep trains from speeding off their tracks.
What’s more, Wetzel says his life history is one of miraculous survival: Living on the streets as a child, he also endured being forced into camps with his family after World War II, and then later becoming a police officer in California. But it was only after the 2017 train crash that his quality of life began to suffer from what he claims was Amtrak’s negligence.
“I was a pretty active guy,” Wetzel said. “I could walk and I could chop wood and take care of things, run a chainsaw. Now I can waddle. I can’t really walk fast.”
Amtrak told Q13 News in an email the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation and will instead respond in court.