South Sound News

Woman recounts moment Amtrak 501 struck her car

DUPONT, Wash — A Seattle woman is telling her story of survival after she was injured but walked away from the fatal train derailment in DuPont in mid-December. On Tuesday Celia Goetz shared her story with KIRO  7.

Goetz is suing Amtrak.

Her lawsuit is the latest to target Amtrak, and she recounted the events of the morning of Dec. 18 when Amtrak Cascades 501 hit her vehicle. She says it all happened in less than five seconds.

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Goetz says she will sometimes commute to Olympia during the week from Seattle. On the morning of the train derailment, a fellow commuter was not able to make the trip with her so she started driving south on I-5.

“It was an off day. I don’t usually commute on Mondays but I was commuting to join in on a holiday celebration,” Goetz said.

She said she approached the overpass and as she saw train derail, she decided to go with the flow of the debris instead of trying to outrun it. That decision may have made a huge difference for Goetz. “I don't know what saved my life,” she said.

Goetz said she was listening to a podcast when she saw trees fall, huge sparks fly, and Amtrak 501 come off the tracks.

“All of those things happened so fast that it wasn't like a slow 'what is happening, I'm not sure, I'm going to figure it out.' It was 'what the hell is happening? My car is headed in the same direction as this train,'” she said.

The impact crushed the back of her vehicle. The events are still fresh in her mind.

“You can’t stop. It's not going to work to stop. I knew I was in the path of the train because I could feel the lights of the train beaming across my car,” Goetz said. She says the image of the lights is something that will stay with her for some time.

Goetz remained on scene, witnessed the rescues, the injury and the full scope of the disaster.

“Watching the train actually fall off the tracks and having the experience of it hitting my car was very traumatic. ... In my mind I was like, 'OK, prepare your body for extreme impact and potentially the end.'”

Goetz now joins, a passenger, other motorists, and an Amtrak employee suing the company. Several firms are representing the parties in their suits against Amtrak. Sandra Widlan, a partner at Schroeter, Goldmark and Bender, is representing Goetz and made it clear that the suit is about finding answers for her client.

“If safety is not Amtrak’s No. 1 priority, that has to change and it has to change right now. There should not be another accident like this one, ever,” Widlan said.

Each lawsuit has raised questions over how fast Amtrak 501 was going; the NTSB said it was traveling at 79 mph in a 30 mph zone.

Goetz' suit also questions why positive train control was not installed on the route -- it's the braking system that would have automatically slowed the train.

Goetz says she's only spoken to family, a few friends and her attorney about what happened. Her interview with KIRO 7 was her first on the seconds that changed her life.

“I realized I was not going to be able to get out of the path of the train and that's maybe in three or four seconds that that thought process was going…That's just been a lot to hold,” she said.

Amtrak has said that it doesn't comment on pending litigation, but when the CEO and president of Amtrak was in Seattle in the days after the crash, he said safety culture was something that needed to improve at the railroad. He also said positive train control was funded and slated for full installation.

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