By Tom Momberg
The Amtrak Train 188 derailment sparked a national conversation, but the Queens victims of the crash made it a tragedy that hit home for many borough residents.
Just six days after the devastating Amtrak derailment that took the life of Laura Finamore and seven others, including Justin Zemser of Far Rockaway, more than 200 of her family members and friends gathered Monday for her funeral at St. Anastasia Roman Catholic Church in Douglaston.
The large number of people who had come to show their respect and share their memories of the Douglaston native underscored how many lives she touched in her lifetime.
“The truth is this is such an incredible shock to all of us. It is certainly something I couldn’t have given a second of thought to merely six days ago,” said Laura Finamore’s brother, Peter Finamore, who delivered the eulogy.
The engineer of the train, Brandon Bostian, lives in Forest Hills.
Finamore, 47, was the managing director of the Cushman Wakefield real estate firm, where she worked for seven years. She was a resident of Manhattan, but she grew up in northeast Queens and was a graduate of Benjamin Cardozo High School. She was also an alumna of George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Finamore’s wake was held over the weekend at Fairchild Sons Funeral Home. By special request from her family, Rev. Frank Tummino delivered the sermon for the mass at St Anastasia. He said this national tragedy has an even more profound impact at home.
“It dawned on me that unlike so many other people, Laura is not just one of those pictures on the news,” Tummino said. “She is someone real to each of us here today. As someone that is real, we all have that desire to let people know that this is truly a simmering struggle. But we can also let them know, as people of faith, that this is not the end.”
Finamore is survived by her parents, Cynthia and Richard Finamore; her three brothers, Michael, Paul and Peter Finamore; and seven nieces and nephews.
Peter Finamore recalled memories of his sister and her love and participation in the lives of her brothers’ children. Though she was dedicated to her career, he said, Laura Finamore always made time for family, including having sleepovers and making art with her nieces and nephews.
“For you young women and girls, you should always remember your aunt and honor her memory, aspiring to be strong like her,” Peter Finamore said. “And when you young men look inside, you should always appreciate strong women and not be afraid of them, because your Aunt Laura was one of the strongest. Laura should be a role model for all of us.”
The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Finamore’s name.
And on May 14, family, friends and classmates of Midshipman Zemser, who was killed in the Amtrak crash, mourned the loss of the 20-year-old at a funeral at the Boulevard Riverside Chapel in Hewitt. The only child was on his way back home from the Naval Academy in Maryland.
“I’ve done enough crying, but I can’t help but get choked up when I think about the loss,” said Victor Nazario, who coached Zemser on the Beach Channel HS football team.
Zemser was the captain of the team for his last two years in high school before graduating in 2013.
“It’s a rare to find young men with the skills he possessed. Leadership, honorable, determined and many other things,” Nazario said. “ He was a fantastic young man that will deeply missed.”
Nazario attended Zemser’s funeral and described his former student as a resolute player who compensated for his small size by practicing all the time and “giving 110 percent,” Nazario said.
“Justin epitomized what it means to be a midshipman, a soldier,” Nazario said.
The train carrying Finamore and Zemser crashed traveling at least 100 mph in a bend of the tracks near Philadelphia where the speed limit is 50 mph. But investigators were still trying to find out why the train’s Forest Hills engineer allowed it to speed.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, he slammed on the brakes right before the train derailed.
Bostian, who sustained a concussion and other injuries, does not remember anything about the crash, the NTSB said, but he has been cooperating fully with the investigation and turned over his cell phone.
A broken windshield was found in the engine car, indicating an object struck the glass. Amtrak union officials are calling for two people to occupy the engine car.