Chef Eli Kulp Reveals His Story Including The Extent Of The Injuries He Suffered in May’s Amtrak Train Derailment
Fork Restaurant in Philadelphia was experiencing a slow night, and chef Eli Kulp decided to catch an early train back to Manhattan.
“I just started CrossFit and I wanted to get home a little earlier cause I had to get up early for it,” Eli Kulp told The Post.
Eli lives in Manhattan with his wife and young son. In Manhattan life was good for Eli. He had just signed a lease to open a new restaurant in the West Villiage. Eli moved from Philadelphia to New York in May of 2013 for his wife Marisa’s job selling medical supplies. The commute from Philadelphia to New York was too difficult for Marisa, with an infant. So, Eli made the commute daily.
A few minutes into his commute home on May 12th, at 9:21, Amtrak Train 188 sped through a curve at 106 mph at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia and derailed. Eli was seated in the second car when the Amtrak train derailment occurred. He was immediately airborne. The train was hurtling over 100 m.p.h, which caused the Amtrak train derailment.
Before the Amtrak train derailment occurred, Eli was sitting in a seat on the train where the seats face each other. He chose this seat because he wanted more leg room. But during the crash, with no seat back in front of him to stop him, Eli had nothing to stop his fall. His neck slammed into the the luggage rack.
“I flew across and hit the opposite luggage rack with my neck and then all that sort of flaps on top of me. I immediately knew I was paralyzed,” he said. “I tried to start moving and I couldn’t.”
Eli was trapped. He could barely breathe and he wouldn’t feel his legs in the pitch-black night. Passengers could smell smoke. He survived the crash but he feared dying in the fire. That is when Martin J. Burke, a history professor at City University of New York, came to his side.
“Calm down,” Burke, who lives in Center City, recalled saying. “You’re not going to die. We’ll be rescued.”
Eli told Burke that he couldn’t feel anything.
“It’s OK,” Burke reassured him. And in a calm voice, he told Eli, “I’m going to stay with you. I’m going to make sure they save you.” Burke waited with Eli until responders came to rescue those trapped from the Amtrak train derailment.
Soon the rescue workers arrived and Eli was taken to the hospital. As a result of the Amtrak train derailment, eight people lost their lives and 200 people were injured.
Back in New York, Marisa had not heard from Eli, but did not think much of it. That changed when Marisa logged onto Facebook. The first thing Marisa saw in the Facebook news report was the train crash.
“I couldn’t go any further,” she said. “I was frozen.”
Marisa used her “find-a-friend” app the locate her husband. She saw that Eli’s cell was still at the bend in the track called Frankford Junction.
“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘He’s helping with other people,’ ” Marisa said. ” ‘He’s big, he’s strong.’ That was my first thought.”
About 11:30 p.m., a nurse in the emergency room at Aria Health-Torresdale Campus called to say Eli had been hurt in a train crash. Come as quickly as possible. A friend came to drive Marisa to Philadelphia.
Marisa had the opportunity to speak to Eli and said that Eli was low-key.
“He said ‘Babe, can you believe it, the train derailed. I’m paralyzed,’ ” she recalled.
Eli now has a long road ahead with an uncertain prognosis.
“When you’ve had a severe injury it’s hard to know what that recovery is going to be,” said neurosurgeon Howard Riina, vice chairman of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, and who treated Kulp. “With Eli’s type of injury, it’s quite possible and most likely that he’s not going to walk again and he’s going to have limited, if any, use of his hands.”
Kulp has filed a negligence lawsuit against Amtrak, which has said in legal papers it would not fight cases seeking damages. Amtrak’s liability for a single train accident is capped by law at $200 million.
Last month, the chef filed a negligence lawsuit against Amtrak, which stopped paying for his rehabilitation in June; according to the Post, his health insurance has paid for his care but “he will face thousands in bills for specialized equipment and other treatments.” It’s a horrible thing to happen to anyone, but particularly a rising chef who was set to fulfill a lifelong dream and open a branch of High Street on Market in Manhattan.
The restaurant community has rallied around Kulp. Philadelphia chefs raised $130,000 to go toward Eli’s rehabilitation costs, and a number of restaurants, including his former employers Major Food Group’s newest Parm, have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign. Despite the severity of Eli’s setback remains optimistic and positive. Eli says his “dream has come true. Obviously it’s coming to fruition in a different way than expected.”