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$10M suit blames LIRR platform gap in man’s dragging death

MTA police investigate the death of Karl Aarseth,

MTA police investigate the death of Karl Aarseth, who died after being dragged by an LIRR train at the Lynbrook station on April 5. Credit: Jim Staubitser

The best friend of a man who was dragged to death by a Long Island Rail Road train at the Lynbrook station on April 5 is suing the LIRR for $10 million, alleging it is the latest accident involving the dangerous gap between station platforms and trains.

The suit was filed April 24 by Sullivan, Papapin, Block, McGrath & Cannavo P.C., the same firm that represented the family of Natalie Smead, a Minnesota teen killed by an LIRR train in 2006 after she fell into a gap at Woodside Station.

The suit, filed in state Supreme Court on behalf of Charles Abar — referred to as the “proposed executor” of the estate of the victim, Karl Aarseth — alleges that his death was “due to the negligence, carelessness and recklessness” of the LIRR, including in how it designed, built and maintained the station platform and in the actions of the train crew.

An LIRR spokeswoman Monday said the railroad would not comment on pending litigation.

Aarseth, 65, was returning from visiting the New York International Auto Show in Manhattan when he got off a Long Beach-bound train at Lynbrook just after 8 p.m., said attorney Deanna Caputo. The suit alleges that Aarseth “was caused to fall on to the tracks and was ultimately struck and killed by the said railroad car.”

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident, said Thursday that, according to the train’s conductor, Aarseth staggered while walking on the station platform, “bumped” against the train and then was dragged by the train along the platform, where he was later pronounced dead. NTSB officials said they were not investigating Aarseth’s death as a “gap” incident.

However, Caputo said, according to witness accounts, Aarseth was “somehow entangled” in the gap after stepping off the train and being dragged by it. The suit describes Aarseth suffering “severe multiple blunt impact injuries to his head, neck, torso and extremities” that caused him severe pain and fear of death.

“He was actually screaming out to God before he was pronounced dead,” said Caputo, who described her client, Abar, as devastated over the loss of his close friend. “He was somebody who was family to him . . . They were like brothers.”

A Newsday investigation published in 2007 — stemming from Smead’s death — found a high incidence of railroad passengers falling into platform gaps, the widest of which measured 15 inches at Syosset.

After the report, the LIRR undertook an extensive effort to remedy the dangers of the gaps, including by installing nearly 32 miles of edge boards across 126 stations and adding 2-inch threshold plates at the doors of its entire fleet of nearly 1,200 train cars.

Despite the LIRR completing the effort in 2012, Caputo said dangerous gaps remain “an ongoing issue,” adding, “This is something that can’t keep happening.”

The gap between the platform and the train on one eastbound train, measured Thursday at Lynbrook, was about 6 inches at the doors, where there is a threshold plate, and a few inches wider along the rest of the train.

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