A legally blind Manhattan woman who was injured on an A train that derailed in Harlem plans to sue the MTA for $ 5 million.
Not even her faithful service dog could keep Ashleigh Hertzig from hurting her knee, back and neck June 27 when the train hit a loose rail at the W. 125th St. station and careened into a tunnel wall.
Hertzig, 25, a graduate student at NYU’s School for Social Work, said she was sitting down, a luxury she doesn’t often get — even with her disability — when the train lurched, and her rush-hour nightmare began. The Washington Heights woman was one of 34 people injured.
“Everything seemed fine at first,” Hertzig said. “But as we approached the station, the train began to just shake and rumble and go out of control, going back and forth and up and down.
“I have some vision, so I was able to see some of the lights were flickering. I can see color. I have light perception,” she said. “The woman next to me just grabbed my hand. I was listening to my iPod and the earbuds fell out of my ears. A man sitting on the right of me shouted for everyone to hold on, and he put his arm around me and I just fell into him.
“It was shaking so much I couldn’t hold my body up so I just fell into him. The woman was still holding my hand and my dog, Yuri, was between my legs. I held on to him tight. I was afraid he would slide and won’t be able to help me. I was really lucky I got a seat. A lot of times I don’t get a seat or I’m not offered a seat.”
Hertzig said she was doing fine until she smelled the smoke, and someone said something about fire.
“That’s when I started to panic because I couldn’t see the fire and didn’t know how severe it was,” she said. “I was afraid we were all going to burn because we were stuck under there.”
Hertzig, a cancer survivor, said she has not been on the train since, and that blow to her sense of independence has thrown her confidence off track.
“My whole life I relied on getting around on my own, and the fact that that has been taken away from me is more upsetting,” Hertzig said. “I don’t want to be seen as a victim just because I’m blind.”
Her lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said Hertzig is filing a notice of claim Friday.
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority representative declined to comment on the impending case.
“The fear and horror this legally blind young woman experienced both for herself and her service dog during the derailment, as well as its aftermath in which people were being trampled, windows smashed and smoke filling the train is unimaginable,” Rubenstein said.
A loose 13-foot piece of track, left between rails in the Harlem tunnel, was blamed for the derailment. The nearly 500-pound track, against safety protocols, was left behind after a crew replaced a defective section of rail, officials said. Two track maintenance supervisors were suspended without pay as investigators blamed human error for the crash.
Hertzig said the dog never panicked.
“Yuri was calm the whole time,” Hertzig said.
“That’s how he is trained. I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do his job or keep me safe. He was slightly distressed. I took him to the vet to make sure he was OK. They said he was OK, and wanted extra treats.”