Perquimans Co. family was on Amtrak train that crashed, derailed

Perquimans County Schools Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman and his family were among the survivors on that Amtrak train that crashed in South Carolina on Feb. 4, 2018.

PERQUIMANS COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — A local North Carolina family is recalling a train crash that killed two and injured many others in South Carolina.

Matthew Cheeseman, who is the Perquimans County Schools superintendent, was on his way to Florida for a short family trip.

Cheeseman told 10 On Your Side over the phone that his family boarded the Amtrak train in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, around 8 p.m. Saturday night.

Cheeseman says they were sleeping in their train car when they noticed something was off.

“Everything started to change. The train started to rock in a motion not familiar to us. Large metal-on-metal sounds were being heard. At that point, I pulled my daughter close to me and held on to her,” Cheeseman said.

Cheeseman says the noise lasted for a number of seconds.

“We came off the rails. You heard the impact. You felt the impact. This impact launched us across the room. It was loud. It was scary,” he said.

After the crash, the family used their cell phone lights to find a way to get out.

Once off the train, they helped other passengers.

Initially, Cheeseman says he did not know what caused the crash and the passengers were moved to a staging point in a nearby lot.

That’s when he says they found out their Amtrak train had crashed into a CSX train.

According to NBC, the train’s conductor ,Michael Cella, and the engineer, Michael Kempf, died in the crash.

NBC also reports 116 people were treated at local hospitals.

Cheeseman says his family is fine and his 9-year-old daughter only has a couple of bruises.

“We understand people lost their lives. People have greater injuries than we do and we pray for all of them. We know we’ve been blessed and we’re thankful for what everyone has done,” he said.

Following the crash, Cheeseman says many passengers worked to help others still onboard and that he will remember the instant friendships made during this crisis.

“I can tell you the quality of care people gave each other is what I’ll remember from it,” he said.

Cheeseman also has a new appreciation for emergency responders and the first responders, who he says remained professional.

According to CNN, this is Amtrak’s fourth fatal crash since December.

That includes one that occurred last week in Virginia.

Cheeseman says he knew about the previous crash while boarding this weekend, but that one and the crash he was involved in will not prevent him from getting back onboard.

“You hope we learn from this experience and make it safer in the future. It won’t stop me from getting on the train again,” he said.