WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – All six of the people killed in a fiery collision between a commuter train and an SUV in the New York City suburbs suffered blunt-force injuries and burns, a medical examiner announced Tuesday.
A brief statement released by Westchester County did not specify the cause of death for any of the victims. It also did not specify whether the blunt-force injuries were caused by the impact on the tracks or by the pieces of third rail that speared into both vehicles in the Feb. 3 accident.
The collision killed five men on a Metro-North evening commuter train and a woman whose SUV was hit by the train at a grade crossing in Valhalla. A fire erupted, apparently fueled by the SUV’s gasoline, and 12 sections of the railroad’s electrified rail pierced the SUV and the train car.
The findings were based on autopsies conducted by the office of the county medical examiner, Dr. Kunjlata Ashar, the county said. The statement said Ashar’s final report and conclusions will not be completed until the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its investigation several months from now.
The train, braking hard, hit the SUV at 48 mph and travelled about 1,000 feet before coming to a stop, the NTSB said. The third rail penetrated the Mercedes SUV and then the first car of the train, breaking into its 39-foot sections and “coming in, in, in, in,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday. He said seeing the burned-out rail car was “like looking into a coffin.”
The NTSB said it would use information from the autopsies and from surviving passengers’ injuries, coupled with a diagram of where people were sitting, to try to determine how people were killed.
The NTSB is also asking questions about whether Metro-North’s unusual third-rail arrangement, which involves taking power from the bottom of the rail, led to the splintering of the rail, which investigators said they had never seen before.
Another key question is why the SUV driver, Ellen Brody, was in the path of the train. A witness said her car was hit by the dropping crossing gate and she then drove forward and was hit by the train. The NTSB has said the crossing gates and lights were working properly.