Aaronson survives tragic Chatsworth rail accident
By Nao Braverman
Ojai resident Joel Aaronson was headed home from his office in Sherman Oaks on the second car in the Metrolink train when it collided with a Union Pacific Corp. freight train in Chatsworth on Sept. 12.
He was taken to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center where he is being treated for a fractured femur.
“I remember sitting on the train reading a book, and then I remember being on the floor with my knee under the seat, unable to move,” he said. “I remember nothing between those two events.”
Aaronson lay motionless and in shock on the floor of the second car, until his cell phone rang. It was a call from his daughter in Minnesota, who knew nothing of the crash.
“I usually call my kids every Friday after work to wish them a happy Shabbes,” he said. “I wished her a happy Shabbes, then I told her I had been in an accident. I told her to call Barbara and then I said, ‘I love you’ and hung up the phone.”
Barbara Aaronson, Joel’s wife, had just gotten home from work when she got the phone call and immediately called her husband.
“He said, ‘There’s been an accident. I can’t move, don’t worry, I love you,’ and hung up,” she said.
Then she turned on the television, saw the news, and immediately headed out with a friend to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where most of the victims were supposedly staying, she said. On the way over they received a call from Joel Aaronson, in the ambulance, who told them he was on his way. He was one of the patients that did stay in Northridge although the majority of patients were actually taken elsewhere, his wife said.
Before the ambulance picked him up Joel had made a few phone calls to his secretary at work, and to some people from the Jewish Federation that he was expecting to meet later.
“I couldn’t tell them anything except that I had been in an accident,” he said.
He had a tingle in his hands that he was concerned about, and he couldn’t move very well, he said.
“I thought if it was my time, then it would be my time. If it was not, somebody would come and get me.”
Fortunately, the emergency response team did come to get him. Injured passengers were divided into three triage areas.
“I was aware the entire time, but it was like I was in another world,” he said. “It was like watching a ‘M.A.S.H.’ episode, one knew that one was there, but at the same time it seemed unreal.”
Aaronson arrived at the hospital just minutes before his wife. His face was smashed up and bleeding and his arms were bruised. But four days later he was doing much better, according to his wife who was with him at the hospital Tuesday morning.
“It could have been much worse,” she said.
Aaronson said he hopes to have enough of his strength back to be able to leave the hospital this week, but isn’t sure how long it will take to recover.
“I figure I’ll be out of commission for eight or nine months,” he said.
He said he hasn’t even thought about whether he will take the train again, which he used regularly to commute to Moorpark where he had a car parked. He would ride from there to an office in Sherman Oaks where he works as an attorney, and then take the train back to Moorpark to get home.
“It will take some time to get over it,” he said.
Ojai resident Tom Michali was also headed home on a Metrolink, two trains after the one that collided with the freight train Friday.
It’s a commute he makes four days a week on his way home from his architectural office in downtown Los Angeles. To avoid the congested freeways, he catches a train from Union Station to Ventura and then drives home. The ride is better than suffering through traffic, and is usually on time, he said. But Friday evening Michali had to transfer to a bus in Van Nuys. The train broadcasted an announcement that the trip would be delayed because of a collision, but there were no further details.
By the time Michali arrived in Burbank, however, the word spread among passengers that the wreck had killed some people and injured many more. They had yet to discover that it was the country’s deadliest rail disaster in 15 years.
“Everyone called their families and I called my wife right away so she would know I was alright before the news got to her,” he said.
He added that a number of co-workers had called his cell phone from the office to make sure he was OK. Michali was taking a different train than the one that crashed, as there are only a few that go all the way to Ventura from Union Station. But his would have passed on the same railway through Chatsworth, just a half an hour after the incident.
“Everyone that was on my train knew they were on there by the grace of God,” he said. Michali said he will continue to take the train to work, as getting in a car crash is probably still more likely than another train accident, unfortunately.
“It really puts things in perspective,” said his wife, Nancy Michali. Michali’s first thoughts when he heard about the accident were about how short life can be. “It just makes you start thinking about your life, and whether you’re prepared to die, “he said.
The train accident occurred after an engineer, who was killed in the crash, had failed to stop at the final red signal, according to an Associated Press article. The commuter train was carrying 220 people, 138 were injured and 25 killed in the accident.