• Local conductor's family sues CSX, Amtrak over deadly train crash

    By: Kevin Clark , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    The wife of a local Amtrak conductor killed in a train crash is suing for wrongful death.

    The lawsuit alleges that both CSX and Amtrak were negligent in the crash that killed Michael Cella, 33, of Orange Park.

    “Mrs. Cella would like everyone to know, what she wants to see is change,” said Howard Spier, attorney for the Cella family.

    According to the lawsuit, the Amtrak train “was improperly and unexpectedly diverted into a side track known as the Silica Siding by means of a mainline switch” where it struck the sitting CSX train at 50 miles per hour.

    The suit also says that CSX “deliberately disabled and/or suspended the track side signals,” causing that part of the track to be in “dark territory.”

    Alisa Wilkes, a local attorney who often handles railroad injury cases, tells Action News Jax when the signal system is down, the dispatcher will authorize the train to operate.

    She said a local Amtrak chairman told her the moving train got the “all clear” signal from CSX over the radio.

    Former CSX conductor Louis Billingsley explained that rail employees should have instead filled out a “switch position awareness form,” communication that allows the dispatcher to know whether it’s safe to let trains through.

    “He should have never let anybody go through there, unless he had that form filled out,” Billingsley said. “It could have been totally prevented.”

    Even so, the track was never re-aligned.

    Spier tells Action News Jax there is plenty of blame to go around.

    “When they hit that switch, ‘oh my gosh,’ they said, ‘we’re being diverted off the mainline track,’” he said. “I’m certain that was in their minds.”

    CSX declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

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