On New Jersey Transit Line, 2 Deaths and a Bizarre Link
November 27, 2006 9:06pm CST
BRADLEY BEACH, N.J., Nov. 21 — In a bizarre series of events, a passenger was killed early Tuesday after he was caught in the door of a New Jersey Transit train and dragged along the platform — just two and a half hours after another train he had been riding on hit and killed a woman as she stepped onto the track. The passenger, John D’Agostino, a globe-trotting artist and teacher, rode Train No. 3293 out of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan at 10:41 p.m. on Monday, after landing at Kennedy International Airport earlier. He had arrived from his home in Turkey for a family Thanksgiving celebration that was to include a 50th birthday party for him and his twin brother, Joe, on Dec. 3. At 11:44 p.m., when Mr. D’Agostino’s train was about a mile north of the Aberdeen-Matawan station, the engineer saw a woman standing on railroad property next to the tracks. Dan Stessel, a spokesman for New Jersey Transit, said the woman stepped between the rails as the train approached. The engineer applied the emergency brake and sounded the horn, Mr. Stessel said, but the train struck the woman and she was killed. About 200 passengers remained on the train, which ran on the North Jersey Coast Line, as the police began an investigation, Mr. Stessel said. The woman was not carrying any identification and the police said Tuesday they hoped to use her fingerprints to determine her identity. After an hour, a second train with a new crew was brought alongside the first. The passengers boarded the new train and, about 1:30 a.m., continued on their way. It arrived at the Bradley Beach station about 2:15 a.m. Mr. D’Agostino had been carrying a backpack, a duffel bag and a gym bag, his brother said. The doors opened and Mr. D’Agostino threw one of his bags onto the asphalt strip that served as a ground-level platform. What happened next is not clear. Joe D’Agostino said that detectives told him they thought that the doors had closed on his brother’s backpack as he got off the train. When the train began to move, Mr. D’Agostino was dragged along. Joe D’Agostino, relating the account of investigators, said his brother appeared to have freed himself from the pack and then fell under the moving train. “One of the things they’ll be looking at is whether or not he attempted to re-board the train as it was departing to retrieve the other two bags,” Mr. Stessel said. Two of Mr. D’Agostino’s three bags were later found on the train. But apparently, no one on board realized what had happened. The police in Bradley Beach received a report from a witness about a body on the tracks. It was not until the train reached Spring Lake, two stations farther down the line, that the Bradley Beach police alerted the railroad and the train was stopped. It was 2:29 a.m. Mr. Stessel said that there were three crew members on the train at Bradley Beach — an engineer, a conductor and an assistant conductor — and that the conductors were tested for alcohol and drug use as a routine part of the investigation; he said he did not know the results of the tests. He said it was railroad policy for conductors to stand on the platform at the station to help passengers get on and off trains, then to close the doors and signal the engineer when it is safe to proceed. Mr. Stessel said that in this case, the assistant conductor was stationed in the last car and it would have been her job to observe the platform through the window of the rear door as the train pulled out. “We have launched a formal investigation to insure that all of our established protocols and procedures were observed,” he said. Mr. D’Agostino grew up in Neptune, not far from Bradley Beach. He studied for a short time at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, his twin said, but eventually, his wanderlust took over. He joined the Peace Corps in the mid-1980s and went to Togo. There, he supervised construction of schools, water systems and a clinic, according to one of several Web sites he created, johnsbighead.com. The Web site said that from 1998 to 2003, Mr. D’Agostino was an English tutor at an elementary school in Istanbul. Other Web sites he created detail his travels and display his artwork. His relatives said that Mr. D’Agostino traveled so much, touching down in places like Romania, France and Korea, that the family could not keep up with his schedule. He was married once, briefly and never had children. “I think he liked the freedom to travel,” the brother said, calling him “an atheist with a tendency toward Buddhism.” The brothers were identical twins and they liked to play pranks on friends. Mr. D’Agostino would go into his brother’s restaurant, Joey Gia’s Trattoria, in Bradley Beach, and pretend to fire an employee, or he would go to one of their favorite local bars and fool Joe’s friends. On this visit, Mr. D’Agostino had planned to go to Massachusetts to spend Thanksgiving with a sister. A party with about 40 friends was being planned at the restaurant for the twin brothers’ birthday. One of his friends, Laura Johnston, said that it was typical of Mr. D’Agostino that no one had been sure who was supposed to pick him up at the train station. “You didn’t know what he was going to do until you saw the whites of his eyes,” Ms. Johnston said. They had been waiting for a call from him on Monday night, but it never came.