At least 6 killed when Metro-North train smashes into car in Valhalla

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(CNN) -- At least six people died Tuesday when a packed Metro North commuter train plowed into a Jeep Cherokee on the tracks north of New York City.

A dozen more were injured, a rail official said.

Five of the people killed in the fiery crash were train passengers, and the sixth fatality was the female driver of the Jeep, the MTA told PIX11 News Wednesday morning.

The death toll has fluctuated multiple times throughout the early stages of the investigation.

The collision happened about 7 p.m. when the gates at the two-track Commerce Street crossing near Valhalla came down on top of a Jeep Cherokee stopped on the tracks.

The driver got out to look at the rear of the vehicle, drove forward and was struck, a Metro Transit Authority official said. She was outside the vehicle when the train struck, the official said.

The 5:44 p.m. northbound train from Grand Central Terminal shoved the SUV about 10 car lengths.

The third rail pushed up from the track and rammed through the entire first car of the train. "Everything is melted inside," said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

The commuter train was full when the accident happened. "There were about 650 (people) total on the ride home," said Astorino said.

A passenger, Justin Kaback, told CNN that people on his car didn't panic and exited in an orderly manner. Getting out of the car was difficult because it was so high and snow was on the ground, he said.

MTA said the riders evacuated themselves. About 400 commuters were taken to a rock-climbing gym for shelter, the train company official said. Buses were en route there to get to them to Pleasantville.

Twelve people were taken to Westchester Medical Center. Their condition was not immediately known.

The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that the agency was sending a "go team" to investigate the crash.

 

Officials say the third-rail pierced the train, but did not hit any customers.

Eleven of the injured were taken to Westchester Medical Center and one was taken to Phelps Memorial in Sleepy Hollow.

This is just the latest in a series of deadly events on the Metro-North.

On December 1, 2013, 4 passengers were killed and dozens injured when a Metro-North train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station.

The engineer was suffering from sleep apnea at the time, and was going over 80 mph on a 30 mph curve.

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“Our hearts go out to those lost, we pray for those injured and our hats are tipped to the brave first responders who came to the scene of this tragic crash so quickly," Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a statement. "I have spoken to Tom Prendergast, who has assured me that a full and thorough investigation has already begun. At this early stage, it is premature to point any fingers of blame, but there are many important questions that must be answered in the coming days.”

The Metro-North originally said 6 people were dead, but have since retracted that number.

Metro-North established a Family Assistance Center and Phone Hotline at Mount Pleasant Town Hall, 1 Town Hall Plaza in Valhalla  for those who had loved ones affected by the deadly collision. Information is also available at 1-800-METRO-INFO (800-638-7646).

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