New York, NY Elevated Train Wreck, Jun 1916


Extraordinary Grand Jury Summoned to Fix Blame for Rear-End Collision.


Wrong Signal Sent Passenger Train into Empty Local, Say Witnesses.


Interborough Officials interfere with Coroner While He is Examining Railway Employes.

One man was killed and eleven persons seriously injured as a result of a rear-end collision yesterday afternoon between two southbound elevated trains on the Third Avenue tracks just north of the 149th Street Station. About thirty other passengers were slightly injured, but left for their homes before the [unreadable] could get their names.

Following the accident the Coroner's office in the Bronx ordered an investigation, which developed into a violent dispute between the county officials and Frank Hedley, Vice President and General Manager of the Interborough Railroad, as to the manner in which the investigation should be conducted.

The trouble between Mr. Hedley and Coroner William J. Flynn began over the question of interrogating railroad employes. Seymour Mork, Assistant District Attorney of the Bronx, angered at the way the Interborough men were proceeding, ended the argument by convening an extraordinary session of the Bronx Grand Jury. The jury met last night to determine the responsibility for the accident. Fifteen employes of the Interborough were subpoenaed to appear, among them being Mr. Hedley.

Hedley Before Grand Jury.

One man, Edward P. Grove, signalman in the tower on the elevated tracks a few hundred feet from the scene of the accident, was arrested on a technical charge of homicide, but when the Grand Jury adjourned last night he had not appeared before it. Mr. Hedley refused to waive immunity, and was not examined.

The collision occurred at 2:35 P. M., according to the police report. A southbound Third Avenue local train ran head-on into the rear of an empty Second Avenue local which was standing a little north of the 149th Street station, waiting until a train waiting at the station moved ahead and cleared the track.

Following is a list of dead and seriously injured:

The Dead.

KERRIGAN, FRANK, 29, 1,314 Second Avenue.

The Injured.

BABCOCK, JOSEPH, gasman, Bungalow 64, S. I.; laceration of both legs and possible internal injuries.

BLAKE, Mrs. ADELINE, 2,951 Briggs Avenue; contusions of the hip and arm.

DANZ, LENA, 1,285 Washington Avenue; contusions of the back and hips.

GERDANSKY, BARNET, Physical Director, 238 East Broadway; lacerations of the hand and leg, removed to Lincoln Hospital.

GLUCKNER, LENA, 425 East Sixty-fifth Street; removed to Lincoln Hospital.

LEPMAN, JULIUS, clerk, 1,037 Teller Avenue; removed to Lincoln Hospital.

MARGOLAS, MAX, operator, 5 Goerck Street; lacerations of the scalp, removed to Lebanon Hospital.

MACKINTOSH, KATHLEEN, 2,478 Harlem River Terrace; shock.

PIERSON, PETER, guard, 2,048 Valentine Avenue; severe burns of the face, head, and legs, removed to Lebanon Hospital.

ROTHENBERG, BENJAMIN, painter, 1,639 Mount Hope Avenue; contusions of the chest and possible fractured ribs, removed to Lebanon Hospital.

TABB, LEON, operator, 1,000 Brook Avenue; lacerations of the scalp and contusions of the knees.

The wreck occurred just south of a slight curve between 149th and 150th Streets. Frank Kerrigan, motorman of the loaded Third Avenue local, pulled out of the station of 156th Street at about 2:30 o'clock. Just ahead of his train was the empty Second Avenue local in charge of Switchman Timothy Waldron of 490 East 140th Street, who was taking it down to 129th Street and Second Avenue to put it into service for the heavy afternoon traffic. With Waldron was a flagman, Patrick O'Hare, of 205 East 124th Street.

As the empty drove up to the 149th Street station there was a train just ahead and Waldron stopped his train a car's length to the rear of it. A moment later he heard a should and leaned out his window to see what the matter was. The shout came from O'Hare, who was on the rear platform of the last car, and saw the oncoming train. The flagman fled through the empty cars.

A moment later came the crash. A sheet of flames shot up twenty feet. The forward car of the laden train was lifted straight up into the air and then jammed its way for three-quarters of its length along the top of the last car of the stationary train.

Motorman Shot Through Window.

Motorman Kerrigan was hurled out through the window in front of him. His body shot a dozen feet in the air in the midst of the flames and then fell through the roof of the lower car, where it was caught fast between two broken seats. Cries and groans arose as the sixty-odd passengers in the local train fought their way out through the cars and stood, hesitating, before the peril of the third rail.

Patrolman John. J. Devery of Traffic Squad E was in the street just below the point of the collision. He hastily sent in a fire alarm and called for ambulances. When the engines and trucks responded he was among the first to hurry up the long ladder to the blazing train.

With streams of water playing upon him, Devery clambered on the wreck. In a few moments he had descended into the wrecked car and carried out the insensible Kerrigan.

In the meanwhile firemen were rescuing passengers and taking them to the elevated station. Peter Pierson had fallen between the cars. The fireman saw his arm sticking out through a broken window. The flames were already sweeping over him, and they used their axes to chop away the wreckage before he could be rescued. As the injured were taken out of the cars they were sent away in ambulances to the Lincoln, Lebanon, Harlem, and Fordham Hospitals. The work of investigation began as soon as the last of them had been removed.

Shonts and Hedley There.

Detectives from the Bronx District Attorney's office, investigators sent by the Public Service Commission, and Coroner Flynn and his staff had arrived by that time. Theodore P. Shonts, President of the Interborough, was soon at the scene. Public Service Commissioners Henry W. Hodge, Travis H. Whitney, and Charles S. Hervey came up as quickly as an automobile could bring them.

Coroner Flynn was interrogating Waldron when the dispute between the company and county officials began. As he was questioning Waldron a man stepped up and said to the trainman:

"See here, my man, you don't have to answer any questions. Don't speak to him."

"Captain," said the Coroner, turning to Captain Blaney Winslow of the Morrisania Station, who stood close by, "make this man stop his interference in this case."

"I am counsel for the railroad," said the stranger. "This man is not under arrest and you have no right to question him."

The Interborough lawyer was hustled out of the way and the Coroner proceeded with his examination of the switchman.

Assistant District Attorney Mork told newspaper men afterward that Mr. Hedley had been extremely abusive to Coroner Flynn.

"He finally told the Coroner to go to hell," said Mr. Mork. "declaring that he intended to run his railroad without interference from anybody. I thereupon obtained authority from District Attorney Martin and summoned the Grand Jury. We mean to show these railroad officials that they are above the law in this county."

Coroner Flynn described how George Keegan, Superintendent of Transportation for the Interborough and Hedley's right hand man, had first tried to stop the railroad employes from talking.

"Mr. Keegan told me that I would have to arrest an employe of that road before I could question him," said Mr. Flynn, "and I told him that he was the only man I would arrest and that would be for interference with an officer in pursuance of his duty.

"Then Mr. Hedley came up and raised the question that I had no authority that because as yet no one had been reported dead. As a matter of fact Kerrigan was dead then and, anyhow, a Coroner is authorized to act in cases of injury as well as death. Hedley cursed me and was most abusive. He apologized to me later, saying that what he had said had been in the heat of excitement."

Mr. Headley's Statement.

Mr. Hedley issued this statement last night:

"I have carefully investigated the accident on the Third Avenue Elevated at 150th Street. There were no defects in the equipment and the conditions surrounding operation at that point were precisely as they have been for a great many years.

"The motorman of the train which caused the collision was thoroughly qualified, and the only possible explanation is that he failed to notice the train which was ahead of him. It was raining at the time, but the motorman could see the tail-end of the train standing on the track for over 1,000 feet in front of him.

"The trains on the Third Avenue line are not controlled by automatic block signals at present and the signal which separated the train which was run into from the following train was a signal which is never used except to hold Third Avenue trains when a train from the West Farms branch is coming in on the Third Avenue line.

"Thus the arrest of the towerman in charge of the signal was the arrest of a man absolutely innocent of any possible responsibility for the unfortunate accident. It is to be regretted that there was a misunderstanding with the Coroner. This ofrficer came onto the structure shortly after the accident and before traffic had been restored. The Coroner was on the structure attempting to conduct an investigation and ordering the arrest of various employes an hour or more before the injured motorman died.

"The supreme duty at the moment was to care for the wounded, remove the debris, and restore traffic. The point where the accident occurred is one of the most critical points in the whole elevated structure. Trains at that hour go by at intervals of from thirty to fifty seconds, and the failure of traffic to move freely interferes with the convenience of thousands of people.

"It should be stated that the Directors of the Interborough some five or six months ago authorized the installation of automatic block signals and automatic stops on all curves on the elevated railroad, and that these signals and stops are being put into place as rapidly as possible.

"To install automatic block signals and stops on all the straight line, as well as curves, of the elevated structure would reduce its carrying capacity 20 to 25 per cent. We have always felt, therefore, that the most satisfactory method of operation was to choose competent motormen and rely upon their judgment in keeping sufficient headway between themselves and the train preceding.

"The Coroner ordered the arrest of the signalman at 150th Street and, pending his being relieved by a substitute, placed a policeman in the tower. Thus for an hour or more this signalman, upon whose calmness and judgment in this distressing emergency depended the safety of trains, was forced to perform his duty under conditions perfectly calculated to cause a serious accident."

Mr. Shont's Statement.

"I cannot make any sort of informative statement just now," said Mr. Shonts later, "because we have not the facts necessary to be known. The signals, so far as I can learn, were all right. A thorough examination will be made to find out who is to blame."

The Public Service Commissioners who were present were inclined to blame the dead motorman. Mr. Hodges said:

"We got the news of the wreck at 2:40 P. M., and our investigators were here in less than half an hour. So far as I can learn from conversations with witnesses and officials, I would say that Kerrigan, for some reason which we will probably never know, heedlessly ran his passenger train into the empty train. A guess of mine as to the reason would be that he saw the train ahead of him looming up through the mist and thought it was standing at the station platform, whereas, as we know, it was a car's length from the train there. The empty was composed of seven cars, so that made it nearly a thousand feet that Kerrigan could have been out of his reckoning. He saw his error too late."

Mr. Hadges thought that wooden cars saved a greater casualty list.

"The front car in the one and the rear car in the other train," he said, "were simply ground into each other. The other cars had hardly a window broken. If they had been steel cars the collision would have rolled them into the street, and the loss of life would have been much greater. Our inspectors are still at work, and we will have a comprehensive statement to make later.

Signals in Question.

Commissioner Whitney said that signals might play a large part in determining the blame.

"We understand from Mr. Hedley," he said, "that the Third Avenue track is considered straight here in spite of the slight curvature. Some time ago the Interborough put signals at all intersections and curves, but in this case a motorman is supposed to see the train ahead of him and use his own discretion in approaching. What we must acertain, because none of us, not even Mr. Hedley, could remember, whether the plans call for a signal there or not."

It is admitted by the officials of the Bronx that this matter of signals will form the basis of the investigation. There is a tower almost opposite the spot where the accident happened to guard trains approaching the intersection at 150th Street and Third Avenue of the Westchester Division of the Interborough. On the south-bound tracks is a semaphore signal, which was set to "clear," according to witnesses.

This semaphore, which is about 150 feet north of 150th Street, can be seen plainly from the station at 156th Street and Third Avenue, but according to Mr. Hedley and other employes of the railroad, it is not used save in cases of trains on the intersection. It has nothing to do, they assert, with traffic on the track between the 156th Street and 149th Street stations.

Mr. Mork has witnesses who are ready to assert that the signal is used for traffic on the Third Avenue southbound.

Signal Wrong, He Says.

Morris Fliegner of 902 Eagle Street was a witness to the accident, and swore that Kerrigan was not to blame. Fliegner and Grove will both be before the Grand Jury today, and it is understood that Fliegner will corroborate the towerman. He asserts that he was employed in the tower for eleven years, and thus described the semaphore signals:

"That semaphore just north of 150th Street is called the No. 16 signal, and it shows clear or blocked tracks on the curve between the 149th and 156th Street stations. In addition to the semaphore, the signal has an arrangement whereby six torpedoes, one after another, may be fired when any motorman disregards a signal. I was present when the accident happened, and know that the sempahore was clear, for I looked at it the first thing. I heard no torpedoes."

The torpedoes were found by the police on the tracks at the base of the semaphore. According to Commissioner Hodges, several were tried out and were all right.

The Grand Jury was taken to the Court House last night in automobiles. After hearing four witnesses it adjourned until this morning at 10 o'clock. The following have received subpoenas to appear:

Frank Hedley, George Pegram, and S. D. Smith of the engineering department of the Interborough; Timothy Waldron and Edward Grove, towermen; Patrick O'Haire, flagman, and Owen O'Reilly, Oscar Denner, Israel Stein, William Siegrist, Arthur Bauman, Morris Fliegner, Harry Siegel, and Patrick Herbert.

The New York Times, New York, NY 9 Jun 1916


New York article

Dear Mr. Burke,

Sorry for the delay in response...I don't check my messages very often!

I am very happy that you were able to learn more about the loss of your ancestor. I am surprised at how many comments I have received from articles I have transcribed...some are memories that people have of the disaster, and others are individuals who found a small piece of their family's history.

I also am of Irish heritage (my family came to the USA in the 1840's from County Mayo), so helping out someone from Ireland is a bit of an honour for me as well.



Motorman Frank Kerrigan

Dear Sir,
Many thanks for the web page dealing with this tragic accident. Frank Kerrigan was my grandfather's brother and it is of great interest to me and to other members of our family in Ireland to read about what actually happened.
Eamonn Burke