Karl Aarseth Jr. did not have many family members, but his friends fondly remember him as a kind-hearted man who had a passion for cars.
“He kept a Ford Mustang in the garage,” said Phyllis Matonte, who lives in the same apartment complex that Aarseth did, on Noble Street in Lynbrook. “It was the love of his life.”
Aarseth could frequently be found in that garage, working on the Mustang. It was his fondness for cars that took him to the New York International Auto Show in Manhattan on April 5. After the show, he took a train from Pennsylvania Station home to Lynbrook. At around 8:12 p.m., Aarseth got off the Long Beach-bound train and was struck by it, dragged along the platform and killed. He was 65.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are conducting a probe into Aarseth’s death, but are not reviewing it as a “gap incident.” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudsen said that a conductor on the train saw Aarseth bump into the train with his shoulder as it left the station, and then was dragged along the platform.
“The train stopped, and the passenger was fatally injured,” Knudsen said. “At no point did the passenger fall under the platform.” Knudsen said that the NTSB launched its investigation on April 6, and will try to determine how far Aarseth was dragged and what caused the accident. There is no timetable for concluding the investigation, he added.
Last week, the NTSB released a preliminary report about the incident. According to the document, crew members aboard the train said that as it was stopped in Lynbrook, the conductor was in the third car, and the assistant conductor was on the platform, near the seventh car. The assistant conductor signaled with a flashlight that all passengers were clear of the train. The conductor acknowledged the signal, closed the doors and told the engineer to depart the station, the report said.
“After the train began moving, the conductor said he saw a person move toward the train, about halfway down the platform, near the waiting room,” the report reads. “The conductor said the person made contact with the side of the fifth or sixth car of the train and fell to the ground. The conductor then called the engineer over the intercom to stop the train, as he also signaled for the train to stop.” After the train stopped, the conductor and assistant conductor found Aarseth’s body about 85 feet from the east end of the station. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Aarseth was born in Rockville Centre on April 22, 1952. He had no siblings, never married and was predeceased by his parents, Karl Sr. and Marilyn, whom he cared for until their deaths. He had recently retired from a position in finance at the Henry Schein health care company.
“He was just enjoying life,” Matonte said. “He was in the best years of his life. He was healthy.”
Because he did not have family, Aarseth left his estate to a close friend, Charles Abar, who will soon attend a probate hearing to become its executor. Aarseth was Abar’s daughter’s godfather.
Last week, Abar filed a $10 million lawsuit against the LIRR in State Supreme Court. He has retained the Garden City-based firm Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath & Cannavo P.C., which represented Natalie Smead, a teen from Minnesota who was killed by an LIRR train in 2006 after she fell into the gap at Woodside station in Queens.
Abar’s suit blames the train crew and alleges that Aarseth died “due to the negligence, carelessness and recklessness” of the LIRR, including how it designed, built and maintained the platform. The LIRR recently came under fire from local elected officials for reneging on a $10 million overhaul of the Lynbrook train station. The project is one of many under review by new LIRR President Phillip Eng. The station has not had a major upgrade in more than two decades.
The lawsuit states that Aarseth suffered “severe multiple blunt impact injuries” to his head, neck, torso and extremities, which caused his death.
Deanne Caputo, one of the attorneys representing Abar, said the firm is looking into whether it was a gap incident and whether the LIRR was negligent.
“There is more feedback that the gap was involved, but it doesn’t mean that that is the only theory or the theory that will ultimately be the one that the lawsuit is based on,” Caputo said, adding that Abar declined to comment.
Caputo said that the next step in the suit is to bring the application to court, where, she said, she hoped a judge would enable the firm to obtain evidence and information from the LIRR and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan declined to comment because of the pending litigation, and would not detail how the incident might change safety procedures in the future. He did note, however, that the LIRR is cooperating with the NTSB investigation.
“In order to understand what happened and how similar events might be prevented, we are fully participating in the federal investigation into this tragic accident,” he said.
More than a month later, Aarseth’s death is still a shock to his friends and neighbors. “He didn’t use the railroad that much,” Matonte said. “That was the odd thing.”
Matonte, who works at an accounting firm in New York City and is also a Pilates instructor at ROK Health & Fitness, in East Rockaway, and Fitness 19, in Malverne, said that Aarseth was in excellent physical condition. She recalled that he used to box regularly, often attended fitness classes with her and swam laps daily at their apartment complex’s pool in the summer.
In addition to his love of cars and fitness, Matonte said, Aarseth also enjoyed horseracing and would offer her betting tips. She said she couldn’t bring herself to watch the Kentucky Derby last Saturday because it would have reminded her too much of him. She added that Aarseth would frequently spend time talking to her 93-year-old mother, Grace, by the pool, and that he was like a son to her.
Aarseth’s body was cremated. According to the Flinch & Bruns Funeral Home’s website, a celebration of his life is scheduled for May 19 at 1 p.m. at the Hempstead Lake State Park Pavilion.
“He was a great guy,” Matonte said. “Everybody loved him.”