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Key Question One Week After Metro-North Crash: Why Was SUV On Tracks?

The Commerce Street railroad crossing late last week. Photo Credit: Skip Pearlman
The Commerce Street railroad crossing looking east toward the Taconic State Parkway after Tuesday's fatal crash. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Ellen Brody Photo Credit: Provided

VALHALLA, N.Y. -- A week after the deadliest train accident in Metro-North's history, one key question may never be answered.

Why was Ellen Brody's Mercedes sport utility vehicle inside the Commerce Street crossing gates as an express train approached at 58 mph on Tuesday, Feb. 3?

The 49-year-old from Edgemont was killed in the 6:30 p.m. collision, which triggered a fire in the front railcar that killed five commuters. Two of those killed were Bedford Hills residents: Eric Vandercar, 53, and Walter Liedtke, 69. Two victims were New Castle residents: Robert Dirks, 36, and Joseph Nadol, 42. Also killed was Aditya Tomar, 41, of Danbury, Conn.

An eyewitness told the National Transportation Safety Board that heavy rush-hour traffic was "inching along" after an earlier accident closed three lanes of the adjoining Taconic State Parkway. NTSB officials are seeking more witness accounts. Also, Brody had only been driving the 2011 Mercedes since December and may not have been completely familiar with it, officials said.

A crossing gate came down on the rear of Brody's SUV, giving her less than 39 seconds to drive away. Instead, she climbed out of her Mercedes to check the gate, got back in, paused for a moment and pulled forward directly into the path of the train, said Rick Hope of Yorktown Heights, the motorist directly behind Brody. 

Investigators are trying to determine whether traffic prevented Brody from pulling forward sooner, said Robert Sumwalt, a board member leading the NTSB probe. 

Tuesday's collision -- Metro-North’s sixth accident at a rail crossing in less than four years -- is once again raising questions about whether more can be done to make them safer. There are 17 Metro-North grade crossings in Putnam and Westchester counties, including at Commerce Street. 

Metro-North's Hudson Line has six grade crossings. There are 40 rail crossings on the entire Harlem Line including at Commerce Street. 

There are dozens more grade crossings on Metro-North's three branches in Connecticut, but none on its main New Haven Line.

In April 1998, 16 years after nine teenagers were killed in a van at a Long Island Railroad crossing in Mineola, a railroad bridge was built over the tracks at Herricks Road.

Alan Brody said his wife "was taken from us in a tragedy of unimaginable proportions" at Friday's funeral services in Dobbs Ferry.

"Our hearts go out to everyone who has been involved," he said.

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