NEW YORK (PIX 11) — The Spuyten Duyvil train derailment on Sunday was the deadliest in New York City since a subway train derailed near Union Square in Manhattan 22 years ago. That crash left five people dead and more than 200 people injured. There are many parallels between that incident and the one this week, and if the outcomes end up being similar, there may be even more heartache and disappointment ahead, as described by a man who lost his mother in the 1991 subway train derailment.
“I just want to know why,” said Keith Pascal, 32. It was the question he wanted answered by Robert E. Ray, the motorman on the Number Four subway train that derailed as it pulled into Union Square station on a hot night on August 29, 1991.
The impact of the crash just before midnight took the life of Keith’s mother, Audrey Pascal, as well as those of four others. Audrey Pascal had been heading home from her job as a hotel worker in order to be with her husband, Cletus, and son, Keith. At the time, Keith was just 10 years old.
“I didn’t know about [my mother’s death] until the cops came to my house, and I guess they told my father he had to identify the body,” said Pascal in an interview.
Like the Spuyten Duyvil train derailment, speed was a factor in the 1991 crash. In fact, it was an even bigger aspect of the case then. The train was traveling 40 miles per hour as it pulled up to the Four Train platform. The speed limit in that zone was 10 miles per hour.
In the aftermath in the case 22 years ago, a lot of attention in the investigation focused on the train operator, much as it’s focused on train engineer William Rockefeller now. In the subway derailment, though, motorman Robert E. Ray not only walked away from the scene, he was arrested at his home in the Bronx 12 miles away, more than 12 hours after the derailment. Tests showed that, even then, he had a blood alcohol level of .21 — more than twice the legal limit.
His case in court was like many other operator-caused derailments. He was convicted of manslaughter. He was released after serving 10 years of his15-year sentence.
Ray’s last listed address is 2960 Frederick Douglas Blvd. in Harlem. It’s a temporary housing facility run by the Doe Fund for homeless men or men recently released from incarceration.
The Doe Fund was not able to provide information on Robert Ray’s whereabouts, although some people affiliated with the facility told PIX11 News that Ray is not currently staying there.
This much is known, however. The man responsible for the deaths of five people has spent the last 11 years a free man, even though the parole board criticized him for not ever expressing remorse. By contrast, Keith Pascal had to grow up without his mother.
“You can’t replace a mother’s love,” he said. “You can’t do that.”
He also offered advice to the families of the four people killed in Sunday’s derailment. “It’s a hard pill to swallow. Just pray and stay strong. That’s it.”