Mineola Long Island, NY Train And Van Collision, Mar 1982
TRAIN KILLS 9 TEEN-AGERS ON L.I. AS VAN GOES PAST CROSSING GATE
Mineola, L.I., March 14 - (Special to the New York Times) - Nine teen-agers in a van that apparently drove around a flashing railroad crossing gate were killed early today when a Long Island Rail Road train plowed into the van and hurled it 150 yards down the tracks, the Nassau County police said.
The victims, friends since childhood, had been classmates at local parochial schools and still lived within blocks of one another. Today friends and family members walked to each other's homes seeking comfort.
A 10th teen-ager in the van survived, suffering a fractured skull and leg injuries when she was flung onto the tracks by the diesel-powered locomotive.
Train Was Going 65 M.P.H.
The five-car train was traveling east at a normal cruising speed of 65 miles an hour and was unable to stop in time to avoid the collision, according to the railroad.
The survivor was identified as KATHLEEN CAEMMERER, the 17-year-old daughter of the late John Caemmerer, a Republican State Senator from the nearby community of East Williston. Mr. Caemmerer died last month of cancer. MISS CAEMMERER was listed in critical condition in the surgical intensive care unit of Nassau Hospital.
It was the worst collision in decades at any of the railroad's 305 grade-level crossings, where there were 10 fatalities last year and 10 the year before. Railroad officials said there had been fewer such incidents in recent years because of the construction of elevated track.
But they said they had no plans to eliminate the grade crossing in today's accident.
Two of the teen-agers were trapped in the cream-colored van, the police said. The eight others were thrown free. "I went to one person and he was dead, and I went to another and she was alive," said Jeffrey Weigel, who owns a restaurant about 500 yards north of the tracks and ran to the scene moments after the crash.
"She was moaning," he said. "The most I could do was help" by handing supplies to the paramedics who worked to save her life. The engine smashed into the passenger side of the 1981 Ford Econoline van, shearing one rear wheel from its axle, touching off a small fire and throwing the van down the tracks. Before it came to rest against an embankment on the north side of the tracks, the van rolled over the rail that carries 600 volts of electrical power for the trains. The police said it did not appear that any of the victims had been electrocuted.
The dead were identified as 19-year-old JOSEPH GRAMMAS, the driver, who lived in New Hyde Park; DANIEL BARRICK, 19, of Mineola; WILLIAM R. HARTE, 17, of East Williston; PETER HODGSON, 18, of Mineola;
STACEY LINDEEN, 19, of Garden City; GERALD MALLICK, 18, of New Hyde Park; MAUREEN NOLAN, 17, of Hempstead; CHRISTOFER RYAN, 19, of Mineola, and JAMES SPINELLI, 18, of Mineola.
The police gave this account of the events leading up to the collision:
MR. GRAMMAS was driving the others to an unknown destination after a party that ended at 2 A.M. The party was at the home of MR. HODGSON, at 387 Marcellus Road in Mineola.
The van was headed south on Herricks Road at 2:18 A.M. when the railroad crossing gate swung down, blocking traffic in both directions and signaling the approach of the Port Jefferson-bound train on the railroad's main line.
The train, which had pulled out of the station in Jamaica, Queens, at 2:03, was cruising at about 65 miles an hour. Robert Slovak, a railroad spokesman, said that this is the normal speed for that stretch of track, a flat section of central Nassau County about half a mile west of the Mineola Station.
As the train approached the crossing, the police said, the van threaded its way around the crossing gate and rolled onto the tracks. The police said they did not know why MR. GRAMMAS had apparently disregarded the crossing gate, which they said worked properly. But families of the victims said that motorists frequently crossed the tracks at that spot when the gate was down because they through it was stuck.
Engineer Sounds Whistle.
The police said the engineer blew his whistle before the train reached the crossing, as he was supposed to do. By then, it was too late.
Detective Lieut. Shaun Spillane of the homicide squad said the engineer saw the van and put on the brakes, but could not avoid the collision. The train stopped a quarter of a mile beyond the crossing.
The police and the railroad declined to identify the engineer or the conductor. Edward Yule, general chairman of the L.I.R.R. labor council, said the train crew was "pretty shook up." He said they were "well experienced and good workers."
"There was nothing they could do," Mr. Yule said. "The engineer can't steer the damn train. You are helpless. You have no control. All you can do is put the brakes on and hope for the best."
Trains Halted for 5 Hours.
Robin H. H. Wilson, the railroad president, called the crash "an appalling tragedy." The railroad halted service on its main line for five hours while the police and railroad emergency crews worked to clear the wreckage.
The bodies of the victims were taken to the Nassau County Medical Examiner's office in East Meadow. A spokesman said today that the deaths had been caused by the impact of the crash, not by the electricity in the third rail.
Toxicology tests, which would show whether any of those in the van had been drinking or had taken drugs, were also being conducted. It was not known when the results would be released.
'Nice Young Kids'
Lieutenant Spillane said that no one in the van had been previously arrested or, as far as he could tell, stopped for such minor infractions as traffic violations. "They were nice young kids," he said.
The police said they had no witnesses to the collision, except the train engineer. Early today there was a report that the van had passed several other cars that were lined up at the crossing gate, but later in the day Lieutenant Spillane said that no motorists had come forward to confirm that report.
When the party ended, the teen-agers climbed into the van. It had only two seats - one for the driver and one to his right. The others crowded into the back, where there was brown carpeting on the walls and a mattress on the floor.
Timothy Jaccard, a police paramedic, said that the two teen-agers who were pinned in the van put "their hands over their faces" before the collision.
"They saw it coming," he said.
Residents Anxious About Crossing.
Some residents of the area said there had been concern about the crossing because drivers who were impatient with the long wait frequently went between the barriers.
At Chaminade High School in Mineola, a teacher said he had frequently seen cars going between the railroad barriers on Herricks Road, which has four lanes. The view of the tracks in both directions is obscured by low buildings.
"I've lived in that area all my life, and it is common," said the teacher. "I've seen it many times when the gates are already down. Often the gate is down for a very, very long time."
New York Times New York 1982-03-15