Six killed when commuter train hits car in New York City suburbs - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Six killed when commuter train hits car in New York City suburbs

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Phil Helsel, Niven McCall-Mazza and Becky Bratu

NBC News

Six people are dead in a commuter train crash north of New York City Tuesday, including five train passengers, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

At least 12 people were injured after the Metro-North train struck a Jeep Cherokee on the tracks at around 7 p.m., the MTA said. The driver of the Jeep was killed.

The impact of the crash was so great that the Jeep was pushed 10 train car lengths before the train came to rest. A helicopter from NBC New York showed thick black smoke rising from the train.

The MTA said the Jeep was stopped on the tracks when it was hit by a crossing gate. The driver got out, checked out the rear of the vehicle, and then she got back in and drove forward and was struck by the train, the agency said.

Passengers on the crowded train, heading north from Grand Central Terminal to New York City's northern suburbs, described a jolt, and then an announcement that the train had struck a vehicle. Some passengers had to break the glass of a door to get out; others used ladders to descend from the stopped train.

One passenger said he saw around 50 ambulances on the scene as commuters got off the train. "I've never seen anything quite like it," passenger Neil Rader, who was sitting in the middle of the train closer to the rear, said.

Rader, who lives in Katonah, New York, normally sits closer to the front of the train, but he was running late Tuesday. "I'm very fortunate," he said.

Stacey Eisner, an NBC Universal News Group employee, was a passenger in one of the rear two cars of the train, and said she felt the train "jerk" at some point. There was no loss of power or heat, but it felt like the train had turned off, she told NBC News.

Eisner said the conductor walked through the train to explain what had happened. Passengers were calm at first, but tension began to build when they learned the train had hit a car, she said.

About 10 to 15 minutes after the train "jerk," Eisner's train car was evacuated, with ladders used to get people out. People were taken either to a nearby rock-climbing gym called The Cliffs or allowed to walk to the Hawthorn Funeral Home. About 400 people took shelter at The Cliffs, the MTA said.

Ryan Cottrell, assistant director at The Cliffs, told NBC News that the 40 to 50 people passengers who were brought there appeared to be shaken up but generally OK. Staffers who saw the incident from the front door went to the scene to help bring passengers into the gym, where they were providing shelter and warmth until MTA buses arrive to transport commuters to their destination, Cottrell said.

Metro-North has had a string of recent crashes, including a Dec. 1, 2013, derailment that killed four passengers and injured 61.

In that accident, investigators found that engineer William Rockefeller fell asleepbefore the train roared into a 30 mph curve at a speed of 82 mph. The National Transportation Safety Board said an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea contributed to the crash.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said the MTA has pledged a full and thorough investigation.

"Our hearts go out to those lost, we pray for those injured and our hats are tipped to the brave first responders who came to the scene of this tragic crash so quickly," Schumer said in a statement. "At this early stage, it is premature to point any fingers of blame, but there are many important questions that must be answered in the coming days."

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