A veteran transit worker was electrocuted Monday when he slipped and fell on the third rail on a rain-soaked stretch of elevated tracks in Queens.
The sudden death of 45-year-old James Knell, broke the heart of his high school sweetheart, Jackie, whom he married two years ago after being apart for decades.
"He was my soulmate," she said through tears as she left her parents' home in Flushing last night.
"She wanted to have a child with Jim," said Jackie's weeping father, Gregory Odette, 61. "They were hoping."
Knell, who dated his future wife when they were teenagers in Flushing, doted on her 10-year-old twins and often took them fishing on his boat, Odette said.
And, in a cruel twist, Knell was filling in for another worker when he died, Odette said.
"He shouldn't have been out there working in the rain like that," he said.
Transit and union officials said Knell died about 4:30 a.m. as he was wrapping up a track replacement project on the A line near the Beach 90th St. station in Rockaway Beach.
The power had just been restored so subway service could resume for the rush hour, but a protective board had not yet been placed over the third rail on that stretch, officials said.
Knell was retrieving a bucket of spikes that had been left on the tracks when he slipped, possibly on loose gravel on the concrete walkway beside the track.
"I was about 100 feet from him. I saw him walking by," a grieving subway worker said. "The next thing I know, I heard he fell and was electrocuted."
Over at Metropolitan Transportation Authority headquarters, a somber NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast said, "We lost one of our own this morning.... This is the first fatality in three years. It's never easy to have an employee fatality, but we did have one today."
While it appeared that Knell's death was a tragic accident, Prendergast said an investigation was underway to "both determine a cause and to ensure we prevent a recurrence."
Union officials blasted NYC Transit for making the men toil on the tracks during a downpour.
"Working in the rain around a live third rail is inherently dangerous, it shouldn't happen," Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. "A man is not going home to his family."
Knell, of East Rockaway, L.I., worked for the agency for 13 years and had been a supervisor for the past nine.
"It's ironic as we remember Boggs' and Franklin's third year of their tragedy, we lose another worker on the tracks," said Paulie Navarro of Transport Workers Union Local 100. "It's a sad day in the track department again."
Odette said Knell's death was the tragic end to a love story that began after both divorced.
"Jackie would say to me, 'I really love him,' and I would tell her, 'Let him know,'" he said, choking back tears. "You'd see them walking down the street holding hands."