Susan Perry’s only child, 18-year-old Natalie Smead, was killed in 2006 when a train ran her over after she fell through an eight-inch gap onto the tracks at the Long Island Rail Road station in Woodside. Her parents, both of whom lived in Minnesota, hired a New York personal injury attorney to sue the MTA and LIRR for their daughter’s death.
The family contended that the MTA and LIRR allowed dangerous gaps between its trains and its platforms. An independent investigation by Newsday found “gaps [reaching] 15 inches at some stations,” more than twice the LIRR’s self-imposed limit of seven inches. In response to Ms. Smead’s accident, the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee conducted its own review of the LIRR’s gap-safety record and found 209 incidents in the four-year period between 2002 and 2006.
In February, the MTA and LIRR settled with Ms. Smead’s parents for $1.5 million. The accident and ensuing investigations had already prompted the agencies to examine the gap problem and institute modifications to shorten the gaps between platforms and trains. The LIRR issued statements of regret and apology addressing the accident. Nearly a month after the case settled, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report, which placed blame for the accident on Ms. Smead, who was drunk at the time of her fall and failed to comply with the conductor’s last-minute instructions.
For Ms. Perry, still quite distraught over her daughter’s death, things only got worse. News of the NTSB report exacerbated her already severe depression. On March 20, a day after the report was issued, she wrote an e-mail to friends and relatives decrying the NTSB’s report and expressing her continuing grief over her daughter’s death. Sixteen days later, she hanged herself. Ms. Perry was clearly not well. She first tried to kill herself in February. She obsessed over every article published about her daughter’s accident. Her life after her daughter’s death was remarkable for its misery, pain and loneliness.
Normally it is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the consequences of the tragic, unexpected loss of a family member – the event is simply unthinkable. In this instance, Ms. Perry’s actions made her suffering and her loss clear. Every family that has to cope with tragedy goes through some permutation of Ms. Perry’s experience. They deserve our sympathy, our understanding and our help.