VALHALLA - A 49-year-old mother of three, on her way home from work Tuesday night, was in the wrong place at the wrong time in Valhalla, New York.
At 6:30, Tuesday night, Ellen Brody, of Edgemont, New York, was in her SUV, stopped on the train tracks at the Commerce Street crossing, when the crossing gate came down on her car. According to a witness, who was in the vehicle behind her, she got out, looked confused and tried to push the arm off of her car.
But, it was too late.
The 5:44 express train, from Grand Central Station in New York City, was bearing down. Mrs. Brody never had time to get her vehicle off the tracks. The train smashed into the SUV with such force, it pushed the vehicle some 500 feet up the tracks before the train came to rest and the car exploded. In addition to Brody, five passengers on the train were killed.
The NTSB has brought in a plethora of experts in various areas, including railroad signals, traffic signals, railroad crossing gates and recorders, which are essentially the black boxes onboard trains.
"In addition to the train recorders, there are event recorders on the signals, meaning the crossing gates," said Robert Sumwalt, of the National Transportation Safety Board. More than a dozen passengers sustained serious injuries. One who escaped without a scar was a passenger in the lead car.
"I just heard a very loud bang and a lot lot of screaming," said the passenger, Chris Gross. "People were saying we need a fire extinguisher because we hit something." After the vehicle exploded, a fire broke out in the lead car's cabin.
"I did feel the heat," said Gross. "It was a little but in front of my face, but you know what, again, I'm just lucky to be alive." Among all the desperation and chaos, there was calm in the burning train.
"Somebody was thinking quickly and broke the emergency exit window and I pulled the lever down and helped them slide the door out and I jumped out," said Gross. Among the first responders was the owner of The Cliffs at Valhalla, a rock climbing gym, located right across the street from the accident scene.
"As someone who's been trained in first response, dealing with Rick climbing, I just kind of jumped into action with myself and my staff helping people off of the train," said Mike Wolfert, who said he was just leaving his gym when the accident happened. He used his gym as a staging area for several hundred dazed passengers.
"We took our whole retail area and moved all the fixtures out and set up chairs and gave everybody water bottles and snacks and let them use our internet and phones to call loved ones." A team of NTSB investigators arrived from Washington DC on Tuesday morning.
"We will be on scene for five to seven days collecting, what I call, perishable evidence, which is the information that can go away with the passage of time," said Sumwalt.
Investigators will, of course, be collecting any video available and hope witnesses come forward and contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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