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NTSB Board Member On SUV Driver: 'I Don't Think She Knew Where She Was'

Edgemont resident Ellen Brody's Mercedes SUV was on the tracks when the northbound train passed on Feb. 3, 2015. Photo Credit: Screenshot NBC Today Show
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said of Brody: "She didn't realize where she was. Had she known she was in harm's way, she would've fled the vehicle or she would've run." Photo Credit: Zak Failla
The NTSB announced a probable cause of the deadly Metro-North train crash Photo Credit: File

The fatal Metro-North train crash that killed six people and injured 15 people in Valhalla was caused by Ellen Brody driving her SUV onto the train tracks while the warning system was activated, the National Transportation Safety Board determined Tuesday.

Investigators said they were unable to determine why Brody drove her car onto the train tracks despite warning signs indicating a train was approaching.

Robert Sumwalt, a board member of the NTSB, said he thinks Brody simply lost situational awareness.

"Sometimes we cannot explain human behavior, especially when we don't have the person to talk to," Sumwalt said. "I don't believe she knew she was at the railroad track. She didn't realize where she was. Had she known she was in harm's way, she would've fled the vehicle or she would've run."

The NTSB met Tuesday morning in Washington D.C. to discuss its investigation and determine the probable cause of the Feb. 2015 train crash.

Brody, 49, of Edgemont had left her job in Chappaqua before encountering a traffic jam along the Taconic State Parkway in Mount Pleasant that followed a head-on collision. As bumper-to-bumper traffic was detoured over railroad tracks at Commerce Street, Brody briefly stepped out of her Mercedes SUV to check a crossing gate that came down on the rear of her car.

She then moved forward onto the tracks where she collided with the train. Had she not moved her car forward, the collision would've been minor, the NTSB said. The train horn could be heard from 350 feet away and the warning system operated as designed, the NTSB said.

The NTSB said it spent a considerable amount of time to understand Brody's mindset.

"There are numerous possibilities," Kenny Bragg said. "A lot of these things we are not able to determine because the only person who can speak to this is Ellen Brody. We examined every circumstance and there is not a definitive conclusion."

Board members debated whether to use Brody's loss of "situational awareness" be included as a probable cause.

The third rail penetrating the passenger compartment and a post-accident fire also led to casualties, the NTSB said. The railroad signaling system played no role in the accident, the NTSB said.

Brody was not under the influence and no medical conditions could be identified which contributed to the crash, the NTSB said.

Also killed in the collision were: Bedford Hills residents Eric Vandercar, 53, and Walter Liedtke, 69; New Castle residents Robert Dirks, 36, and Joseph Nadol, 42; and Aditya Tomar, 41, of Danbury, Conn.

The crash was the deadliest incident in Metro-North's history.

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