investigators searched for clues and local elected officials waited for
answers, a Springfield Gardens family mourned the death of their
23-year-old son this week.
23-year-old operator from Springfield Gardens died after his
elevated train derailed at JFK Airport.
Photo By Shams Tarek
DeBourgh, Jr., was the train operator who died on Sept. 27 hours after the
elevated light rail he was driving at JFK International Airport derailed
during a test run.
was laid to rest after a funeral mass at St. Mary Magdalene in Springfield
Gardens on Oct. 3.
burial marked a milestone in seven days of sadness and anger at the
DeBourgh house, which has been getting almost 200 visitors a day—many
strangers, many old friends and family that haven’t been seen in
years—since the accident occurred.
the evening of Monday, Sept. 30, a large crowd of visitors talked among
each other while holding beverages outside the tidy Spingfield Gardens
house DeBourgh called home.
open doors and curtains revealed a similar crowd inside.
with childhood friend Duane Arbuckle.
occasional laughter rose above the rush of low-flying planes from the
airport nearby, most greetings came in hushed tones and were accompanied
by arms around shoulders, or hugs.
DeBourgh Sr. ran back and forth among the guests, receiving condolences.
spoke in measured sentences about the untimely death of his son.
tough on everybody,” DeBourgh, Sr. said.
“It’s a great loss.”
Sr. was driving home on the Van Wyck Expressway the afternoon of Sept. 27,
he said, when he noticed a lot of cars backed up on the road going to JFK.
you imagine the traffic?,” he asked a co-worker.
When he got home, he found a crowd similar to the one
that would become a regular presence in his home for days later.
son had died at Jamaica Hospital just hours before he knew anything about
I got out of the car my daughter came out and said, ‘We lost
Kelvin,’” DeBourgh, Sr. said.
couldn’t believe what happened.
My wife was already at the hospital — she didn’t even get a
chance to speak to Kelvin before he died.”
then, DeBourgh, Sr. has appreciated all the attention.
the attention comforted me,” he said.
“To see the attention and support that everbody is giving, that
helped me keep courage.
That lets us know how much they appreciate Kelvin.”
Sr.’s wife, Bernadine, also appreciates the visitors, he said, but is
not taking the tragedy as well as him.
people are here, she cheers up,” DeBourgh, Sr. said.
“But early in the morning, when she realizes what happened, it
hits her very hard.”
her son gives her enough reason to be angry,” DeBourgh, Sr. said, noting
that the family’s anger was lessened when officials from Bombardier, the
company contracted by the Port Authority to design, build and operate the
train system DeBourgh, Jr. was testing, visited the family two days after
Jr.’s only sibling, 28-year-old June, was not eager to talk to a PRESS
reporter as she carried food around to guests.
you can see my brother was loved,” she said. “That’s it at this
mother, Keva Scott, was also at the house, but too upset to talk to the
paper about her loss.
Young Son and Father, Loved by Many
800 mourners came to DeBourgh, Jr.’s
wake on Oct. 2 at the J. Foster Phillips Funeral Home, many of them
pouring out onto Linden Boulevard because they didn’t fit inside.
the 200 visitors received at the DeBourgh home each night since the
family’s only son died last week, many were strangers who didn’t even
they soon learned about an ambitous young man whose life was cut short
before his time.
Jr., called Kelvin Christopher around the house, was not only a young son,
but a young father, too.
he died, he was getting ready for the first birthday of his daughter Avion,
whom he raised with the girl’s mother, Keva Scott. The birthday is Oct.
loved music, particularly soca – the popular Caribbean dance genre that
derives from calypso.
He would tinker with DJ equipment at home after work, his father
said, and liked going to local West Indian festivals wherever they would
loved music,” the Trinidad-born DeBourgh, Sr. said of his son.
“It was part of his soul.”
Jr. often combined his love for music with his love for mechanics and
electronics, not only as an amateur producer but also while working on
enjoyed installing hopped-up stereos in cars.
DeBourgh, Jr., the handyman, did more than just connect audio cables.
He worked at a local garage fixing cars a couple of years ago, and
the thought of college – while not at the forefront of his mind –
never left him either.
was always talking about going to engineering school,” DeBourgh, Sr.
he knew was that he wanted to do some kind of engineering.”
Jr.’s engineering prowess played out distinctly in his work on the
AirTrain JFK system.
all of the current employees of Bombardier, the company contracted by the
Port Authority to operate the elevated trains, DeBourgh, Jr. was one of
two who had been there since test operation began at JFK one year ago.
spokesperson for Skanska – another company contracted for the AirTrain
project – said at DeBourgh, Jr.’s wake that the late employee was the
management’s favorite operator, that he was always asked to train newer
employees and operate the cars whenever the company did demos for local
elected officials or other “big shots.”
Bombardier coworker of DeBourgh, Jr.’s who visited the crash site some
hours after he died also said that he was loved by everyone in the
was just a kid,” the woman said as she stared at the derailed train 30
Jr. was maneuvering his 180-foot, three-car train out of a left-turning
bend just northwest of JFK’s Federal Circle when, National Traffic
Safety Board (NTSB) systems safety investigator Mark Wahlberg said, 16
tons of concrete ballast meant to simulate passenger weight shifted and
the train jumped its tracks, shearing about 150 feet of concrete sound
barrier off the right side of the train’s elevated guideway and tearing
up the front right corner of the first car.
spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi said that each of the first two cars of the
train had eight one-ton concrete blocks inside their cabs, none of them
secured to anything stationary.
Peduzzi said the cause of the DeBourgh, Jr.’s death is still under
investigation, Port Authority spokesperson Pascuale DiFulco said that
DeBourgh, Jr. was injured when he was “pinned down” and “seriously
injured” in the first car.
would not say what DeBourgh, Jr. was pinned down by, but two of DeBourgh
Jr.’s coworkers at the scene, as well as Wahlberg, said that DeBourgh,
Jr. was crushed by the concrete blocks, which slid forward during the
derailment and pinned him in his seat.
obvious concern is how safe passengers would be under the same
circumstances,” Wahlberg told a PRESS reporter this week.
Port Authority’s AirTrain JFK, a rail line scheduled to start partial
service by the end of this year, links eight terminals inside the airport
to New York City subway and bus lines at Howard Beach and downtown
Jr.’s car, which suffered the most damage, also derailed the farthest,
with several inches of its car hanging over the cracked guideway wall.
The train screeched to a halt about 500 feet before crossing over
the Van Wyck Expressway, the center of which the AirTrain JFK system runs
over for about three miles to downtown Jamaica.
JFK’s cars are supposed to be operated remotely by computer during
regular service, but DeBourgh, Jr. was operating the car manually from
inside for the test run, Port Authority spokesman Dan Bledsoe said.
JFK and Howard Beach terminals were to begin operation by the end of this
year, and the Jamaica terminal by the summer of next year.
DiFulco said that while the system’s daily testing has been
suspended while the Port Authority, Bombardier, concrete builder Skanska
and NTSB conduct their investigation of the accident, he does not know
whether the opening of the system will be delayed.
Liz Goff contributed to this story.