2010-07-30 / Top Stories

Lawsuit Set On Electrocuted Subway Supervisor

By Howard Schwach

Response vehicles line up under the elevated structure at the Beach 90 Street subway station just after track supervisor James Knell was killed when he stepped on the third rail. Response vehicles line up under the elevated structure at the Beach 90 Street subway station just after track supervisor James Knell was killed when he stepped on the third rail. The widow of a track supervisor who stepped on the third rail and was electrocuted as he worked at the Beach 90 Street subway station in April has filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city, The Wave has learned.

James Knell, 45, of East Rockaway, was restoring the tracks at the darkened station at about 4:30 a.m. on April 26, when he stepped on the electrified, deadly rail. Train service was halted for the weekend due to a station rehabilitation program and Knell was part of the MTA crew readying the station to be reactivated for the Monday morning rush. Knell had been with the agency for 13 years, and was supervisor for the past nine years.

A top union official told the Daily News that it was pouring when Knell was killed, and blasted the MTA for forcing workers onto the tracks during heavy rainstorms.

“Working in the rain around a live third rail is inherently dangerous,” said the union official. “It shouldn’t have happened and now this man is not going home to his family.”

Union sources say the crew stopped work earlier in the overnight period because of the heavy rain, and that Knell should not have been working when wet conditions prevailed.

They called Knell a “stand-up track worker.”

Sources said that the power to the track had just been restored, but that a protective board had not yet been placed on top of the toxic electrified rail. Knell was retrieving a bucket of spikes that had been left on the tracks when he slipped, possibly on loose gravel on the concrete walkway beside the track.

Knell left his wife, Jackie, and two stepchildren.

Jackie Knell filed suit late last week, charging that there were numerous violations at the work site.

Her attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, told the Daily News, “third-rail protecting boards were removed and there was no signage or lights alerting employees of the exposed third rail.”

MTA officials said at the time that they were investigating the cause of the tragic death and would “work to insure that nothing like this could ever happen again.”

Officials said recently that a preliminary investigation raised a number of safety concerns, including that Knell was lugging 90 pounds of spikes when he apparently lost his balance and touched the third rail.

A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department told The Wave on Tuesday, “We will carefully review any legal papers we receive in this matter.”

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