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Fatal Train Derailment Breaks Community's Heart

WAMC/Allison Dunne

Four passengers died in Sunday’s Metro-North Hudson Line train derailment. Three lived across the Hudson Valley – in Orange, Putnam, and Westchester Counties. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has a look at one Hudson River community now choking back tears.

News started spreading Sunday afternoon that one of the four passengers killed in the derailment was one of Philipstown’s own – 58-year-old Jim Lovell. Friends say he took the early morning train to Manhattan for work – to help with the lighting and sound for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The audio technician is being remembered as a family man and a community-oriented and all-around nice guy. Main Street in Cold Spring Monday was on the quieter side. Cold Spring is a village within the Town of Philipstown. Many shops are closed Mondays. Perhaps more eerie was the less than half-full parking lot at the Cold Spring Metro-North station. Many community members simply shook their heads, some fighting back tears.

Leonora Burton owns a shop on Main Street and knew Lovell. She also knows his wife, Philipstown Town Board member Nancy Montgomery.

“It’s just one of the saddest things, I almost closed yesterday because I couldn’t stop crying," Burton says.

Asked how such a tight-knit community handles news of the death of a well-liked resident, Burton answers:

“Traumatically, everybody because Nancy being a Phillipstown trustee knows the name. Most of the people who have kids in school know the kids, anyone who goes into Foodtown knows the only kid ‘cause he works there.”

Foodtown is a small supermarket in town, and when you walk into Foodtown, you inevitably run into someone you know, either in the aisle or at the checkout. Annette Pidala is a customer relations manager at Foodtown, where Lovell’s oldest of three sons, Finn, works part-time.

“Everybody just comes together to help out, it really just hits you," Pidala says. "We are all here for each other, pretty much everybody is from this area lives in this town, everybody has lived here their whole life. We are just all here for each other."

And they are here for each other to help with contributions. Burton explains.

“I have a gift basket business and I’ve had several calls for people who want to send baskets, and I suggested to go to the donation site that’s been put up by Tony Shim, I would rather the donations go directly to Nancy than me get the money for the baskets.”

And the donations through the gofundme site set up by Toby Shimin have been pouring in. As of 4:15 Monday afternoon more than $43,000 was raised by 427 people in 20 hours. Pidala likes the gesture.

“I think it’s wonderful. We even started something here as a store, getting people to contribute money.”

A small fundraiser is how she describes it.

Here’s Democratic state Senator Terry Gipson, whose district includes Philipstown.

“Phillipstown is a very close knit community. And everybody knows everybody and this has just been real devastating to everyone there," Gipson says.

He says he and some of his staff members know the family.

“So yeah I was fortunate to have met Jim and Nancy while I was running for the state senate and obviously since I’ve been elected, they are very active in the Phillipstown community," Gipson says.

Also killed in the Metro-North derailment were 54-year-old Donna Smith of Newburgh and 59-year-old James Ferrari of Montrose in northern Westchester County. The fourth passenger who died is a 35-year-old woman from Queens. Federal officials are investigating how the train that originated in Poughkeepsie derailed rounding a riverside curve in the Bronx, injuring more than 60 others.

Montgomery released a statement to a local newspaper, saying Jim Lovell was a dedicated father, a caring husband, and a loyal friend. She says he had a passion for his work in the media and for the friendships he made and cherished. His spirit and sense of community can never be replaced. Montgomery expressed thanks for the overwhelming outpouring of love and support from friends, family, and her hometown. Her statement ends with, “We are grateful. Jim loved so many, and so many loved him.”

It is the last sentence echoed by so many in town on this quiet December day.

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