More of the story behind the Natalie Smead tragedy

smead attorney letter sshot natalie perry smead A month ago I posted an update on the Natalie Smead story. Earlier this week, Natalie’s father, Pete Smead, let me know that the lawsuit had been settled earlier (see this Newsday article). And then he forwarded this letter (PDF) from the family’s attorney, Robert G. Sullivan to Mark Rosenker, Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The letter addresses the question: Why would Long Island Railroad (LIRR) spend millions of dollars on gap repairs if Natalie was at fault in her own death? (continued)

Attorney Sullivan wrote:

The purpose of this letter has nothing to do with the case. It has to do with letting you know what happened after you generated this report. I am going to spell out in this letter all of the factors that you did not take into consideration in any respect, did not recite in your report which was so one-sided, so sloppy, so negligent and you can draw your own conclusion as to the effect it had at the end of this letter.

Sullivan then points out several omissions of the depositions from LIRR employees and police involved in the investigation. He ends with this:

Your report is sloppy and you simply did a lazy job. Had you bothered to obtain the transcripts and/or the witness statements and read them, you would have known differently.

The real reason for this letter is that your report was released on March 13, 2009. I want you to know that on March 20, 2009 Susan Perry, the mother of Natalie Smead sent an e-mail to her friends, a copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit L. You can see her crying out that they “only blamed the victim” and put none of the blame on themselves.

The next attachment is Exhibit M, my e-mail to her trying to assure her that your report and stating what I will not back down from “the report is bullshit, pure and through”.

The final e-mail, Exhibit N, is the next day which is the last communication anyone will ever hear from Susan Perry, Natalie’s mother who signed it – “Natalie’s Forever Mother” and committed suicide on April 5, 2009.

Finally, attached is a photo of Natalie and her mother. You certainly had nothing to do with the death of Natalie Smead and your only connection to it is an investigation that I don’t think you should be proud of.

As to her mother, Susan Perry, who had survived 2 ½ years and had agreed to the settlement prior to the issuance of your report and committed suicide three weeks after the issuance of your report, I will leave you to your own rationalization.


  1. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    This is all very troubling. I was glad for the opportunity to read the Sullivan letter to the NTSB. I can only imagine the horror a mother would experience, visualizing her child caught in the door and then dropped into the gap when the door opened. Such a sad story.

    May 8, 2009
  2. Amber Iwanski said:

    Will the Nfld News jump on this story? They were quick to print the story on Natalie Smead before they had all the facts. The Nfld News article definitely added to a mother’s overwhelming grief. It was cold and pointless.

    May 13, 2009
  3. Griff Wigley said:


    9/30 Nfld News: Memorial walk to remember animal lover.

    Armed with her address book, Susan Perry could be relied on to find homes for abandoned animals and donors to fund the operations of local shelters.

    Weeks after a federal report blamed alcohol in her 18-year-old daughter’s August 2006 death on the tracks of a Long Island Rail Road station in New York, Perry took her own life in April of this year. She was 50.

    Now, friends hope local animal lovers will carry on her generous spirit through a memorial fundraiser next week for the Rice County Humane Society.

    October 1, 2009
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Newsday: The top stories of the decade (Long Island NY):

    2006: WATCH THE GAP — Natalie Smead, an 18-year-old from Northfield, Minn., visiting friends in New York City, was taking the Long Island Rail Road to a concert at Randalls Island on Aug. 5 when she fell through the gap between a train and the platform and was killed by an oncoming train.

    Smead’s death — which an NTSB report later ruled was partly due to the fact that she’d been drinking and ignored a conductor’s instructions — ultimately led to a system-wide campaign to repair gaps, educate riders and reduce injuries. The LIRR settled with Smead’s family earlier this year for $1.5 million.

    The incident marked the first gap-related death, but it was subsequently revealed that wide gaps across the system had caused hundreds of injuries. A Newsday investigation found that the system was riddled with such gaps, and that there were more than 800 gap-related accidents between 1995 and 2007.

    Following Newsday’s investigation, the LIRR launched a $20.7 million effort to shrink the gaps. Between 2007 and 2008, there were 33 percent fewer gap-related accidents.

    December 29, 2009

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