Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder revealed new information about the deadly grade crossing accident in Westbury on the night of Tuesday, Feb. 26. A witness, according to Ryder, reported that the driver of the car that crossed the tracks at the School Street intersection while the gates were down was fleeing a minor accident.
Police said all three occupants died after the vehicle was hit by both eastbound and westbound Long Island Rail Road trains.
LIRR President Phillip Eng said that the gates were down and the warning lights were working. The incident happened at about 7:15 p.m. about 1,000 feet east of the Westbury railroad station terminal. The MTA Police is in charge of the investigation, and as per policy, have not yet released the names of the dead pending notification of their families.
The first two cars of the westbound train derailed as it dragged the vehicle—too mangled to be identified, according to police—and smashed into the platform. Parts of the concrete and steel structure was toppled. Another section penetrated the first car, and according to Ryder, the train engineer ran to the back of the train car before the impact, an action the commissioner said saved his life.
Fine Fare Tribute
“Everybody here is hurting,” said Giovanny Taveras, floor manager at the Fine Fare supermarket on Old Country Road in Westbury. “They were good workers.”
The three store employees, all reportedly emigrated from Central American countries.
A tribute table has been set up opposite the row of cash registers for the three, who had, according to Taveras, eight children among them.
In addition to photo collages of the victims, a five-gallon water jug and donation box stood on the table, with a sign in both English and Spanish asking for donations: “We thank you for your support for their families. In loving memory of our dear friends and coworkers.”
One of the victims reportedly ran the dairy department and two others worked in the meat department. Taveras said they had been employee for nine years and seven years and eight months respectively.
Published reports indicated that their vehicle got into what was described as a “fender bender,” and a witness reported that they fled after the other driver said she was going to call the police.
Their vehicle, traveling southbound on School Street, went around the gates and was first struck a eastbound train that had just left the Westbury Station about 1,000 feet away. It was spun around and then struck by a faster moving westbound train. The vehicle was dragged between the trains, killing all three occupants.
José Almonte of Valley Stream, who has a vending delivery route, worked at the store years ago and said he had gotten to know one of the victims “real well.”
“They were good workers, responsible, hard-working guys,” Almonte said of the men as he placed Sweet Rainbow candy on a stand. “It’s such a sad, sad situation.”
Back At The Station
Ryder and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran held a press conference Wednesday morning at Nassau University Medical Center, where seven people were taken after suffering minor injuries on the westbound train.
Also that morning, about 30 or 40 feet of the eastern part of the damaged north railway platform were being removed as crews prepared put the first two cars back on the track.
There were widespread delays Wednesday as the crash and loss of the westbound tracks forced the LIRR to reroute many trains.
The westbound train’s first two cars had derailed in the crash. Wednesday night into Thursday morning, LIRR crews and equipment had placed the cars back on the tracks. A locomotive was ready to pull the cars away.
Only the eastbound track was operating at Westbury.
Under the ongoing Third Track Project, the MTA will eliminate the School Street crossing. The tracks will remain at grade, but vehicle traffic will flow underneath.
A message on the MTA website stated, “There is limited service in both directions on the Huntington/Port Jefferson & Ronkonkoma Branches, as LIRR crews continue to make repairs following the collision at the School Street crossing. Customers may experience delays up to 10 minutes as trains operate through the work zone.”
View video of the press conference with Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder on The Westbury Times Facebook page.