Profiles of Philadelphia Amtrak train derailment victims

AP News
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Posted: May 14, 2015 10:43 PM
Profiles of Philadelphia Amtrak train derailment victims

Eight people were killed in an Amtrak train derailment Tuesday night in Philadelphia. The victims include a college dean, a food-safety company vice president; a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy; a Manhattan real estate executive; and an Italian businessman. Two were traveling back from a funeral or memorial service.

The victims are:

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GIUSEPPE PIRAS

Giuseppe Piras, a wine and olive oil executive from Sardinia, Italy, was in the United States on business, officials said.

The Italian consulate in Philadelphia confirmed that Piras was among the victims. He was 41.

Piras, who hailed from the town of Ittiri on the Mediterranean island, co-founded an olive oil and wine cooperative and was tasked with marketing its goods for export, according to Italian media.

Consul General Andrea Canepari said his family had contacted consulate officials in the U.S. after they were unable to reach Piras by phone. His death was confirmed to consulate officials Wednesday afternoon.

Canepari says he had spoken to the victim's brother to offer assistance.

A number of other foreign travelers have been listed as survivors. They include passengers from Spain, France, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Algeria and Singapore.

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LAURA FINAMORE

Laura Finamore, 47, was returning to New York City from a memorial service for a college friend's mother, a spokesman for her family said.

The Manhattan resident had texted her mother that she was boarding the train. Her parents saw stories about the crash at about midnight Tuesday and began making calls to area hospitals looking for her.

They got word on Wednesday that the seventh victim of the derailment fit her description, but dental records were needed to confirm it.

Born in Queens, Finamore worked in corporate real estate, and was a senior account director at Cushman & Wakefield.

"Laura was a tenacious deal maker and competitor who never backed down from what she thought was right," her family said in a statement.

"Laura's smile could light up a room and her infectious laughter will be remembered by many for years to come. She was always there when you needed her — with a hug, encouraging words or a pat on the back," the family said.

Finamore is survived by her parents, three brothers, and seven nieces and nephews.

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BOB GILDERSLEEVE

Bob Gildersleeve, who lived near Baltimore, was a vice president of a food-safety company called Ecolab.

Gildersleeve had worked for the company for 22 years, most recently as vice president of corporate accounts for institutional business in North America. The company issued a statement saying it had been notified of his death.

"Bob was an exceptional leader and was instrumental to our success. We will greatly miss him, and our thoughts go out to his beloved family members and friends," the company said.

Gildersleeve's family had traveled to Philadelphia after the crash, circulating his photo and information about what he was wearing, hoping that he was only missing.

Gildersleeve was married with two children, ages 16 and 13.

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ABID GILANI

Abid Gilani was trying to return to New York from his uncle's funeral in Virginia on Amtrak — but he never made it.

The 55-year-old Wells Fargo Bank executive had split his time between Washington, New York and Walnut Creek, California, where his wife lives to be close to their college-age son and daughter. He'd commute there on weekends.

After Tuesday's fatal Amtrak derailment, when she couldn't reach her husband, Diane Gilani reportedly rushed to Philadelphia.

Her worst fear was confirmed.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the Gilanis had requested privacy. The bank issued a statement that said only: "It is with great sadness that Wells Fargo confirms that Abid Gilani, a valued member of our commercial real estate division, has passed away. Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this tragedy."

Abid Gilani juggled career and family life as he climbed up various corporate ladders.

He first worked for the Bank of Nova Scotia from its office in San Francisco.

The family eventually moved to Rockville, Maryland, where Gilani worked for Marriott International. They still own a home there, according to neighbors who remember them fondly as a tight-knit family.

In his last job, Gilani was a senior vice president of Wells Fargo's hospitality finance group on the East Coast.

But he also spent time in his California home, surrounded by greenery on a quiet street in Walnut Creek, outside San Francisco.

Gilani's mother, a resident of Toronto, had attended her brother's Virginia funeral earlier this week, according to the New York Daily News.

She must now also bury her son.

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DERRICK GRIFFITH

Derrick Griffith, dean of student affairs and enrollment management at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, believed in education — for himself as well as others.

He was a former school principal who founded the City University of New York Preparatory Transitional High School in 2003. He was also the executive director of Groundwork Inc., an organization formed to support young people living in poor urban communities.

Griffith joined Medgar Evers College in 2011 as assistant provost. It was the first of several roles he would fill at the college, where officials said he urged students to pursue education "with vigor."

"Everything about him was symbolic of the highest ... sense of teaching," said College President Rudy Crew. "He was an extraordinary man and we will love him and miss him."

A month ago, the 42-year-old received a doctorate in urban education from the City University of New York Graduate Center. Crew said it was inspiring for students, faculty and staff to see one of their own succeeding to such heights. Griffith's dissertation was on how to reach and mentor young black men, the school said.

The college will hold a moment of silence and pay tribute to Griffith in their upcoming commencement ceremony, Crew said.

Princess Steele, 22, said Griffith inspired her to attend college when she was working at the school but not enrolled. He was always available to students, and he knew how to reach them, whether it was to push or just to listen.

"He just had a passion for education," she said. "He was so invested in it. And he wanted to help people — especially black people — just get ahead and succeed."

Griffith is survived by a son Darryus, who is in his 20s, and his mother, Carlea.

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JUSTIN ZEMSER

Justin Zemser, a popular student leader and athlete, was on a break from the U.S. Naval Academy and heading home to Rockaway Beach, New York, where playing high school football helped him and his teammates through the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called Zemser a "crucial member" of the institution.

The 20-year-old's family released a statement mourning "a loving son, nephew and cousin who was very community-minded." They said the tragedy "has shocked us all in the worst way."

Zemser was in his second year. He served as vice president of the Jewish Midshipmen Club and played wide receiver on the academy's sprint football team. Friends at the Naval Academy remembered him for his endearing leadership qualities.

Midshipman James Lieto recalled how his sprint football teammate helped lead first-year students through the academy's Sea Trials hours before the crash. The trials, which began at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, encompass a rigorous 14-hour day of physical challenges.

Zemser, who was known as "Z," wore a floppy sun hat in the early morning darkness to lighten the mood.

"He was always there to pick other people up," Lieto said Thursday.

At Channel View School for Research in New York, Zemser was valedictorian, student government president and captain of the football team.

Outside of school, Zemser interned for New York City Councilman Eric Ulrich and former Councilman James Sanders. Ulrich called him "truly a bright, talented and patriotic young man."

Zemser also volunteered with a church program, a soup kitchen and a nursing home and mentored children with autism, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said. Schumer and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks nominated Zemser to the Naval Academy, and Meeks was struck by his "high character, intellectual curiosity and maturity beyond his years."

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JIM GAINES

Jim Gaines, an Associated Press video software architect, was a geek's geek — and his colleagues loved him for it.

The 48-year-old father of two was named the news agency's Geek of the Month in May 2012 for his "tireless dedication and contagious passion" to technological innovation.

"At AP, not a frame goes by in the world of video that escapes the passionate scrutiny of video architect Jim Gaines," the award said.

Gaines was in the train's quiet car, headed home to Plainsboro, New Jersey, after meetings Tuesday at the news agency's Washington, D.C., office. His wife, Jacqueline, confirmed his death.

"Jim was more precious to us than we can adequately express," his family said in a statement.

Gaines joined the AP in 1998 and was a key factor in nearly all of the news agency's video initiatives, including the successful rollout of high-definition video and the AP's Video Hub — a service that provides live video to hundreds of clients around the world.

In 2006, Gaines' team won the Chairman's Prize for development of the agency's Online Video Network.

Gaines "leaves behind a legacy of professionalism and critical accomplishment, kindness and humor," AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt told employees in an email. "He will be missed."

He is also survived by a 16-year-old son, Oliver, and an 11-year-old daughter, Anushka.

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RACHEL JACOBS

Rachel Jacobs, a leader in the worker-training and development industry, was commuting home to New York from her new job as CEO of the Philadelphia educational software startup ApprenNet.

The 39-year-old mother of a 2-year-old son previously worked at McGraw-Hill, leading the expansion of the company's career-learning business into China, India and the Middle East, and Ascend Learning, another education-technology firm.

Jacobs is the daughter of Gilda Jacobs, a former Michigan state senator and current chief executive of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The family said in a statement that Rachel Jacobs "was a wonderful mother, daughter, sister, wife and friend" who was devoted to family and social justice.

She was a founder and board chairwoman at Detroit Nation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting startups in her Michigan hometown.

Through the organization, Jacobs helped bring the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to New York for its first concert at Carnegie Hall in 17 years.

She attended Swarthmore College and Columbia Business School. She joined ApprenNet in March and had planned on moving to Philadelphia.