"I later heard there was an explosion when the locomotives hit, but I never heard it. I was just instantly knocked out and woke up an hour and half later."
He was rushed to Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, where he stayed for five days. His injuries included serious head trauma and seven broken ribs. While he didn't require surgery, he eventually underwent 45 physical therapy sessions.
Kohler later was awarded $600,000 as part of a $200 million settlement that Metrolink and Veolia paid to the people injured and the surviving families of those killed.
Kohler's lawyer had asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman for $1.8 million. But the judge was constrained by the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997, which places a $200-million cap on payouts to train crash victims.
Like many other crash victims, Kohler believes he should have received more.
Thousand Oaks resident Barbara Kloster, 77, whose son, Michael Kloster, was seriously injured in the train wreck, has advocated for more money for the victims. She wants the 1997 law changed to negate the $200 million cap in cases of criminal negligence.
"We have tried to contact Congress and the Senate and we get nothing," she said. The closest she came was meeting with a member of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's staff about a year ago.
"I'm somebody who voted for these people," she said. "But I'm finding out they're not there to protect us. They're there to do what the big money people say."
Feinstein, D-Calif., said she and former Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, tried to get the cap overturned, but couldn't muster sufficient congressional support.
"I still believe Congress should raise the cap for future accidents, but remain disheartened that we were unable to offer additional help for the Chatsworth victims," Feinstein said in a statement. She reiterated her call for Veolia to create a compensation fund.
In a statement, the French company said it continues "to support improvements in rail safety, like positive train control, that are critical to protecting life and improving the public's confidence in safe rail transportation."
Kohler, a 30-year employee for Providence Saint Joseph, hasn't worked since the crash.
"It was just such a pleasure to go to work," he said. "I was well-respected. I knew so many people. That was taken away from me. That was a very great loss to me."
As a result, he is not as financially solvent as he had hoped to be in retirement.
The crash was the worst thing that ever happened to him.
"By far," he said. "I had never been in the hospital before. I'd never known pain. And I was only one of many. Being drafted in 1966 during the Vietnam War was not a great thing, but the crash by far eclipsed that. It was a very terrible thing."
A memorial plaque will be dedicated in Moorpark on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the deadly Metrolink crash in Chatsworth.
Four of the 25 people who died in the Sept. 12, 2008 collision were from Moorpark. A total of 21 were from Ventura County.
A 24-by-18-inch bronze plaque embedded in a large rock will be unveiled at 4:40 p.m. -- the approximate time of the crash -- at the Moorpark Metrolink station, 300 High St.
Thousand Oaks resident Barbara Kloster, 77, whose son Michael Kloster, was seriously injured in the crash, was instrumental in creating the memorial.
"This is a way to give recognition to the victims and the survivors, to show that people still care," Kloster said.
The Simi Valley Metrolink station has its own memorial to the crash victims. Simi Valley was home to nine of the people killed in the collision, more than any other city. Simi Valley is planning no commemorative events for Thursday.
Chatsworth Hills Academy will hold a memorial assembly at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at its outdoor amphitheater, 21523 Rinaldi Street. The public is invited.
The Sept. 12, 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth spawned safety measures aimed at preventing a similar disaster.
Under a law enacted by Congress a month after the accident, railroads must have positive train control systems in place by the end of 2015. Some lines, other than Metrolink, are lobbying Congress for an extension. The systems use GPS, wireless radio and computers to remotely monitor trains.