WESTBURY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Less than a week after a crash that killed three men who drove around gates and on to Long Island Rail Road tracks, there has been a chorus of calls for more education and safety changes.
But one of those voices is new to the conversation, even though she has spent decades bearing the burden.
She is the lone survivor of a similar crash four decades ago, a crash that killed nine teenagers in Mineola, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday.
Kathy Caemmerer still walks with crutches, 37 years after Long Island’s worst grade-crossing crash. She didn’t want to go on camera, but she showed Gusoff some of the scars she still bears, all because a driver tried to beat a train.
“It was horrific. Nine kids died, maybe people are forgetting. It’s a new generation. People are forgetting what happened to me,” Caemmerer said.
Caemmerer broke her decades-long silence in the wake of a more recent tragedy — last week in Westbury, when three fathers were killed when their SUV was struck by an LIRR train. Their funerals started on Sunday.
“I heard it on the news as I was waking up and I literally said, ‘Not again.’ Stop going around train tracks, please. Lowered gates, stop,'” Caemmerer said.
The Herricks Road grade crossing where she was hit has long been replaced by an overpass, but nearly 300 crossings remain on Long Island, many listed among the riskiest in the nation due to traffic. The price tag to replace them is $100 million.
“You say, ‘Well it will be so expensive to do underpasses or overpasses. That’s what … 98 percent of these crossings don’t need that. They need better lighting. They may need widening of the road,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said.
Schumer is proposing federal dollars for better engineering education and enforcement, like cameras that would ticket people who deliberately go around closed gates.
“It’s not going to stop them from doing what they did. It will just give them a penalty and remind them the second time. Let’s just hope they get to live for a second time,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said.
Caemmerer agrees that elevating tracks isn’t the answer.
“You remove the grade crossings and you can destroy neighborhoods,” she said.
But she said a new generation needs to learn.
“It boggles my mind that anybody does it,” Caemmerer said. “One of these times you’re going to get hit.”
The School Street grade crossing, where the men were killed last week, is scheduled to be eliminated. Another 290 crossings remain in place indefinitely.
In 2017, nearly 280 people were killed nationwide in grade-crossing collisions.