A Yonkers couple hit by a train while crossing a set of New Jersey Transit tracks in their vehicle early Sunday morning says there was no bell or barricade to indicate the train was coming until they were on the tracks, but NJT says an engineer saw them driving around the gates and onto the tracks.
Randa Sayegh, 55, was behind the wheel of a BMW as she and her husband, 58-year-old Bassam Sayegh, crossed the Midland Avenue tracks in Elmwood Park at about 1 a.m. Sunday after visiting their daughter.
She recalled: "The gate from the other side come down, and I hear the train coming and I said to my husband, 'The train is hitting us.' And the minute I say the words, the train hit us."
Bassam was ejected from the vehicle and landed about 30 feet away, and was knocked unconscious, he said. He is recovering with 50 stitches in his left leg and still needs a skin graft.
New Jersey Transit has ticketed Randa for ignoring a railroad crossing, but she insists the crash is "not my fault."
Bassam said his wife would not have ignored a safety gate if it was down.
"Obviously there was something wrong with that equipment that made her keep going which wasn't clear," he said.
But New Jersey Transit said the train engineer saw the vehicle going around the safety gates, blew the horn and applied the safety brakes before hitting the vehicle.
NJT said the safety gates were activated 41 seconds before the collision, time far exceeding federal safety regulations.
Elmwood Park Police Chief Michael Foligno said he has witnessed drivers misjudge the hazard at the Midland Avenue crossing, the most accident prone in the tri-state.
"I believe what makes it so dangerous is the oblique angle of the tracks here is wider than your normal regular crossing," he said.
The Federal Railroad Administration reports 30 accidents, six injuries, two deaths at the crossing since 1975, Sunday's collision not included.
The New Jersey Transit has a $1 million reconstruction and rehab project slated for the crossing to improve signaling and signage.