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‘I saw death and destruction around me that I will never be able to forget’: Oregon man suing Amtrak


An Oregon man was ‘looking forward to a… relaxing ride across the country’ when he boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder 7/27 on September 25 – instead, he found himself clinging for dear life in the train’s bathroom as it derailed and witnessed ‘death and destruction around [him] that [he] will never forget.’ 

Justin Ruddell, 40, suffered two broken vertebrae, five broken ribs, and  ‘severely strained’ arms from clutching the bathroom’s grab bar as the train careened off the tracks.

‘I was on the left side (of the train car) and looking down at the ground,’  Ruddell, of Klamath Falls, said Thursday. ‘The outside door was peeled open and the bathroom door, the lock failed for whatever reason, and it flew open.’ 

Ruddell said he could see all the gravel and dirt outside getting scooped up into the car and ‘feces and urine’ from the toilet poured onto him as he clung onto the bar.

Justin Ruddell, 40, suffered two broken vertebrae, five broken ribs, ‘severely strained’ arms from clutching the bathroom’s grab bar as the train tipped over and the weight of witnessing ‘death and destruction around [him] that [he] will never forget.’ Now, he is suing Amtrak

Three were killed and more than 50 were injured in the derailment near Joplin, Montana on the cross-country Amtrak train from Chicago to Seattle. Eight of the train's ten cars went off the tracks, and two disconnected entirely, sliding thirty feet down an embankment

Three were killed and more than 50 were injured in the derailment near Joplin, Montana on the cross-country Amtrak train from Chicago to Seattle. Eight of the train’s ten cars went off the tracks, and two disconnected entirely, sliding thirty feet down an embankment

Nearly 160 people were aboard the train - thus far, at least a dozen are taking Amtrak to court. The cause of the derailment is presently under investigation

Nearly 160 people were aboard the train – thus far, at least a dozen are taking Amtrak to court. The cause of the derailment is presently under investigation

“If I would have let go, I would have fell down and out that door and got crushed by the train or ground up in the dirt,” he said.

The high-speed derailment killed three and injured more than 50 were as the train from Chicago to Seattle went off the tracks near Joplin, Montana. Eight of the train’s ten cars went off the tracks, and two disconnected entirely, sliding 30 feet down an embankment. 

Nearly 160 people were aboard the train and at least a dozen are suing Amtrak for physical and psychological injuries from the horrific accident. 

Amtrak and BSNF, which owns the rails that the train traveled on, have declined to comment

The cause of the derailment remains under investigation.

‘Trains don’t derail by themselves,’ said Sean Driscoll, a partner at Clifford Law Offices, the firm representing Ruddell.

Ruddell is one of four passengers who filed lawsuits in federal court in Chicago against Amtrak and BNSF Railway on Thursday, claiming the companies were negligent in failing to prevent the derailment. 

Others filing on Thursday were Matt Johnson, 40, of Seattle and Stuart and Karen Dixon, both of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, Clifford Law Offices said.

In 2017, the firm obtained a $57 million settlement against Amtrak when one of its trains derailed in Seattle. 

‘This is another derailment by Amtrak in four years and something must be done to hold the wrongful parties accountable. These people want and deserve answers. Their lawsuits will get them those answers.’   

At least a dozen passengers have filed lawsuits over physical and psychological injuries suffered in the derailment. Amtrak and BSNF have declined to comment on pending litigation

At least a dozen passengers have filed lawsuits over physical and psychological injuries suffered in the derailment. Amtrak and BSNF have declined to comment on pending litigation

Amtrak and BSNF, the company that owns the rail that the train traveled upon, declined to comment on the pending litigation

Amtrak and BSNF, the company that owns the rail that the train traveled upon, declined to comment on the pending litigation

Ruddell spent five days in the hospital in Kalispell, and said the pain due to his injuries is ‘unbelievable,’ that he´s having a hard time sleeping and was unable to work at a mechanic job he was planning to start when he returned from his trip. 

‘At the hospital, Amtrak offered no help,’ Ruddell said at a press conference Thursday. ‘I even had to get myself home from Medford, Oregon, an hour and a half away.’ 

Ruddell said he had traveled from Oregon to Maine a week earlier with the ashes of a friend who had died in 2019. He was between jobs and had been thinking about his friend this summer when he decided to make the trip.

‘I’d always promised my friend that me and him was going to go to the East Coast,’ Ruddell said. ‘That was one of our goals. Something we talked about quite a bit and was never able to make happen.’

‘So I took his ashes that were in a glass piece that somebody made for me, to the East Coast, and went and walked out into the ocean, and kept my promise to him and saw the Atlantic Ocean with him.’

‘We saw it together and we were on our way home and that´s when that train got derailed.’

Ruddell was helped out of the train car, but he refused to get off the side of the car, which was facing up when the train skidded to a halt, without his friend’s ashes.

A woman who was on the train remembered where he was sitting and went back in and grabbed his bag, which contained the ashes, Ruddell said.

At least a dozen passengers have filed lawsuits over physical and psychological injuries suffered in the derailment. Amtrak and BSNF have declined to comment on pending litigation

At least a dozen passengers have filed lawsuits over physical and psychological injuries suffered in the derailment. Amtrak and BSNF have declined to comment on pending litigation

'Amtrak and those responsible for this tragedy must be held accountable for the mistakes they make,' Ruddell said

‘Amtrak and those responsible for this tragedy must be held accountable for the mistakes they make,’ Ruddell said

‘Amtrak and those responsible for this tragedy must be held accountable for the mistakes they make,’ Ruddell said. 

They cannot offer what they hold out to be safe transportation, then walk away when people are killed or injured for the rest of their lives… Amtrak has to do the right thing.’ 

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the derailment.



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