Justin Zemser, 20, had just completed his sophomore year at the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The midshipman, with dreams of becoming a Navy SEAL, boarded a train, Amtrak #188, bound for Penn Station, Wednesday evening, beginning his long trek home to Rockaway Beach.
But at 9:40 p.m., his trip was violently cut short when the train he was on derailed and crashed on a notorious curve of track in Philadelphia. Zemser was one of seven people who did not make it out alive.
A graduate of Channel View High School, where he was valedictorian and a wide receive on the football team, According to his mother, Susan’s, Facebook page, he had recent;y visited Israel.
“This tragedy has shocked us in the worst way and we wish to spend this time grieving with our close family and friends. At this time we ask for privacy from the media,” Zemser’s family said in a statement.
Zemser also served as an intern for Council members Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), both of whom paid tribute to the Rockaway resident.
“Today, the Rockaway community mourns the death of Justin Zemser, a local resident and former intern in my office, who lost his life last night in the tragic Amtrak train derailment,” Ulrich said in a statement released Thursday. “Justin was truly a bright, talented and patriotic young man. My deepest prayers and sympathy go out to his family and friends who are grieving during this very difficult time. He will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him.”
“I was greatly pained by last night’s train derailment, a pain that quickly intensified when I recognized one of the victims,” Richards said in a statement “Justin Zemser showed great commitment and initiative as an intern in our office, well before he dedicated his life to our country by joining the U.S. Naval Academy. He was a rising star that will be greatly missed by the Rockaway community. His family is in my prayers and my office is always open if there is any way in which we can help.”
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach), noted that Zemser was a neighbor of his and that he was proud to live near “an American hero.” State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. said the Zemser family was close to one of his staff members, who “had known Justin since he was a child and knew him to be a good Rockaway neighbor.”
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica), who nominated Zemser to the Naval Academy, also paid tribute.
“I had the great honor of nominating Midshipman Zemser to the Naval Academy,” Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) said in a statement. “He was an outstanding young man whose high character, intellectual curiosity, and maturity beyond his years inspired confidence in what he and his generation are destined to achieve. He was a superb high school student, a caring son, and possessed a profound concern and commitment to his community and country. His tragic death is an incalculable loss.”
Meanwhile the engineer who was behind the controls of the Amtrak train when it derailed Wednesday has been identified as Brandon Bostian, 32, of Forest Hills.
According to several published reports, Bostian claims to have no recollection of the accident and has hired a lawyer. He was injured in the crash, receiving 14 staples to close a head wound. His lawyer told several media outlets that Bostian has given a blood sample and turned over his cell phone to police.
Bostian has worked for Amtrak since 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile.