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Met Museum Curator and Manhattan Financier Among Metro-North Dead

By Ben Fractenberg | February 4, 2015 7:18pm
 One of the train cars was set ablaze after the collision, witnesses said.
One of the train cars was set ablaze after the collision, witnesses said.
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MIDTOWN — The National Transportation Safety Board began a wide-ranging investigation to determine why six people died in a horrific collision with an SUV at a Westchester grade crossing Tuesday night as some of the victims were identified.

The Mercedes SUV, which was driven by Chappaqua jeweler Ellen Brody, was pushed about 1,000 feet down the tracks after the collision at the Commerce Street railroad crossing in Valhalla, NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said Wednesday evening.

The electrified third rail broke off during the impact, penetrated the SUV behind the driver’s seat, came out of the car over the right rear tire and then went into the first car of the train, Sumwalt added.

“The entire interior of the first rail car was burned out,” Sumwalt said.

About 400 feet of the electrified third rail was shoved into the first car in 80-foot sections and at least one piece penetrated the second car, according to the NTSB.

The agency's investigating whether power was cut to the third rail as it is designed to do when it breaks apart.

“Initial indications are the fire was fueled by gasoline from the SUV,” Sumwalt said.

Brody, who was identified as the driver by Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, got stuck at the railroad crossing after the safety gate hit her car, witness Rick Hope told News12.

She got out of the car to inspect the damage, but then instead of backing up away from the tracks she got back into her vehicle and drove forward into the path of the train, Hope said.

Brody, a mother of three, was reportedly heading home from her job at ICD Contemporary Jewelry, which counts Bill and Hillary Clinton as clients.

ICD owner, Verda Singer, told the news site lohud that Brody was a “very careful driver” and a good employee.

"She cared about other people, she was a great mom, always full of life and energy," Verda reportedly said.

The other victims were also identified Thursday.  

Eric Vandercar, 53, a father of two, was heading back to Bedford Hills from his job at Mesirow Financial in Midtown when he was killed.

“With a heavy heart, we are sad to report the untimely passing of Eric Vandercar, a beloved senior managing director in our Institutional Sales and Trading New York office,” a spokeswoman for the company said in a statement.

“Eric was not only a pillar in our industry, he was a great partner and friend to many.  Losing him is a huge loss, personally and professionally.  Our entire Mesirow family is hurting and our deepest sympathies are extended to his wife, Jill, and their family.”

Vandercar received an MBA in finance from NYU and bachelor’s degrees from the Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Walter Liedtke, a curator of European Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from Bedford Hills, was also killed.

“We are all shocked by this news and have his entire family, particularly his wife Nancy, in our thoughts,” read an email sent to museum staff, the New York Times reported.

36-year-old Robert Dirks from Chappaqua, Joseph Nadol from Ossining, and 41 year-old Aditya Tomar of Danbury, Connecticut, also died in the train crash, authorities said.

The NTSB said it was just beginning its investigation and was still looking for possible video of the accident or eyewitnesses.

Officials asked that anyone who saw the crash email them at witness@ntsb.gov