Jewish Navy cadet, start-up CEO among 7 killed in Amtrak crash
Justin Zemser, 20, was vice president of US Naval Academy’s Jewish Midshipmen Club; Rachel Jacobs, 39, was head of an education company in Philadelphia
WASHINGTON — Justin Zemser, a Jewish sophomore at the US Naval Academy, and Rachel Jacobs, CEO of an education tech company, were among the seven people killed when an Amtrak train derailed near Philadelphia Tuesday night.
Zemser, 20, who was vice president of the academy’s Jewish Midshipmen Club and a wide receiver of the school’s sprint football team, was on his way home to the Far Rockaway section of Queens when the train derailed.
Rachel Jacobs, 39, another Jewish passenger on the New York-bound train, was missing and declared dead Wednesday. She was CEO of ApprenNet, an education technology company based in Philadelphia.
“He was a loving son, nephew and cousin who was very community minded,” Zemser’s mother, Susan, said in a tearful address to the media Wednesday morning. She described her son, who had recently celebrated his 20th birthday, as “the most wonderful kid,” in a brief interview with CBS News. The family then asked for privacy.
“This tragedy has shocked us in the worst way and we wish to spend this time grieving with our close family and friends,” the family wrote in a statement. “At this time we ask for privacy from the media.”
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called Zemser a “crucial member” of the institution, according to NBC News.
Earlier this year, Zemser participated in his first trip to Israel together with other Naval Academy midshipmen as part of a program organized by Friends of the Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy.
Jacobs, a mother of one whose mother, Gilda Jacobs, is a former Michigan state senator, was missing much of Wednesday, but her family confirmed that she was among the seven killed in the accident.
“This is an unthinkable tragedy,” her family said in a statement published by the Washington Post. “Rachel was a wonderful mother, daughter, sister, wife and friend.She was devoted to her family, her community and the pursuit of social justice. We cannot imagine life without her. We respectfully ask for privacy so that we can begin the process of grieving.”
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the train on which Zemser was riding was traveling at speeds exceeding 100 mph when it reached a curve on which the maximum travel speed for trains is 50 mph. Medical responders noted that the passengers sitting toward the front of the train suffered more severe injuries. One car toward the front of the train was smashed beyond almost all recognition.
The crash occurred on the most-traveled passenger railway line in North America, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which links Washington DC and New York City.
Seven people have been confirmed dead, with another two still missing and unaccounted for. Almost 24 hours after the crash, rescuers still were coming the wreckage Wednesday evening looking for evidence and for additional victims. Over 200 other passengers – the vast majority of the estimated 240 passengers on the train – were injured.