Ellen Brody and five other people were killed Tuesday when the 49-year-old woman stopped her SUV on tracks in New York moments before a Metro-North commuter train barreled through the crossing.
Federal investigators looking into the fiery commuter train wreck focused their investigation on the mystery of why Ellen Brody, who was remembered in a memorial service Friday, was on the track in the first place.
“The big question everyone wants to know is: Why was this vehicle in the crossing?” said Robert Sumwalt, National Transportation and Safety Board vice chairman.
According to the Associated Press, the wreck occurred in the late evening hours and visibility was lessened at the time of the accident. Ellen Brody exited her SUV momentarily after the crossing gates came down and hit her car, according to a motorist behind her, Rick Hope.
“She wasn’t in a hurry at all, but she had to have known that a train was coming,” Hope told the Journal News. He reportedly motioned for her to back up and gave her room to reverse. But instead, she returned to her car and went forward on the tracks, he said.
— NBC New York (@NBCNewYork) February 6, 2015
“It looks like she stopped where she stopped because she didn’t want to go on the tracks,” Hope he told WNYW-TV. “It was dark, so maybe she didn’t know she was in front of the gate.”
According to Sen. Charles Schumer, the train appeared to be traveling at a speed of 58 mph, well within the 60-to-70-mph speed limit in that area, however, the NTSB said it wants to confirm speed and other data extracted from the recorder before releasing it.
Investigators are examining the crossing gate, although they initially said the gates appeared to work, as well the tracks. They are also interviewing the crew and looking into whether the SUV also had a data recorder on board.
— UPI.com (@UPI) February 5, 2015
According to family friend Paul Feiner, the town supervisor in Greenburgh, Ellen Brody was a mother of three grown daughters and an active, outgoing member of her synagogue. Feiner said the jewelry store employee was “not risky when it came to her safety or others.”
According to the FRA, there are an average of 230 to 250 deaths a year at commuter train crossings, which is 50 percent fewer than two decades ago.
A 2004 government report says risky driver behavior or poor judgment accounts for 94 percent of all crossing accidents,.