Federal investigators probing a deadly crash involving a New York commuter train and a SUV have focused on the behavior of the vehicle’s driver, who was identified Wednesday as a 49-year-old mother of three.
Five men on the train, as well as the SUV’s driver, were killed late Tuesday in the deadliest accident in the 32-year history of the Metro-North commuter rail. The train smashed into the Mercedes ML350 driven by jewelry store employee Ellen Brody, which had become stuck on the tracks between the railroad crossing gates.
“The big question everyone wants to know is: Why was this vehicle in the crossing?” said Robert Sumwalt, National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman.
The wreck happened after dark in backed-up traffic in an area where the tracks are straight but driving can be tricky. Motorists exiting or entering the adjacent Taconic State Parkway have to turn and cross the tracks near a wooded area and a cemetery.
Witnesses said Brody calmly got out of her vehicle after the crossing gates came down around her and hit her car. She then got back in and drove forward before the train hit the car, killing her instantly.
“It looks like where she stopped she did not want to go on the tracks but the proximity of the gate to her car, you know, it was dark — maybe she didn’t know she was in front of the gate,” Rick Hope, who was in the car behind Brody, told WNYW.
“I said to myself, ‘The clock is ticking here, the gate is down, the bells are ringing — what are you going to do here?’” Hope added. “She looked a little confused, gets back in the car and pulls forward on the tracks.”
Traffic was moving slowly at the time, choked with drivers seeking to avoid the Taconic State Parkway because of an accident, Hope noted.