Amtrak passenger recalls terrifying derailment onto I-5 a year later

DUPONT - The Amtrak derailment in 2017 killed three people and injured dozens of others.

Rudy Wetzel of Centralia is one of the survivors.

He says he was assigned to car 3 seat 15 on the day the Amtrak train was making its inaugural run on its new route from Seattle to Portland.  All 12 cars derailed either onto I-5 in DuPont or near the highway.

“I was sound asleep, I put my hat in front of my face and I was out till the wreck happened,” Wetzel said.

He wasn’t awake to see the train fly off the tracks but he vividly remembers the terrifying minutes after.

“I woke up, it was dark, I was on the ground face down on gravel,” Wetzel said.

When he woke up , Wetzel says he thought the train had exploded.

“I was stuck there I couldn’t move my body till I moved the gravel. It seemed like I was there forever,” Wetzel said.

Wetzel managed to crawl out from under car 3, which was on its side. He had a broken back, among other injuries.

“I heard people yelling, calling for help. I couldn’t help them, I was in excruciating pain,” Wetzel said.

He couldn’t walk by himself and, when he needed it the most, Wetzel says a stranger, a woman, picked him up and walked him to a nearby stump.

“Thank God for that woman who came by, she was an angel. I couldn’t even say thank you,” Wetzel said.

He says before the woman came to help he noticed the engine in the back of train still running on the track above him. Wetzel was worried that it was going to explode or topple over.

“I was petrified, it could come crashing down any second,” Wetzel said.

He spent three days in the hospital and months recovering.

“I couldn’t drive. I was incontinent for a while, which is very, very traumatic thing for anybody,” Wetzel said.

Wetzel is one of dozens who have filed suit against Amtrak.

“Presently on the passenger side Amtrak has admitted liability, they have taken responsibility,” Wetzel’s attorney James Vucinovich said.

Vucinovich hopes to have Rudy’s case settled by the end of this month. He also represents several other plaintiffs and the settlements he says will be case by case.

Wetzel’s injuries may have mostly healed, but he is still in disbelief that the accident happened in the first place.

“Never, never, never envisioned this sort of accident to happen,” Wetzel said.

Vucinovich says there are still many questions that have to be answered by the NTSB investigation. A final report is expected next year.

At the time of the derailment, the engineer was going nearly 80 miles per hour on a 30 mile per hour curve. Vucinovich says that is critical aspect of the investigation. He says Amtrak did not train and familiarize the engineer adequately prior to the inaugural run.