WESTBURY, NY — The crossing of School Street and the LIRR Port Jefferson line reopened around 4:50 p.m. on Thursday for the first time since a crash involving two trains and an SUV on Tuesday evening left three men dead.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, people who've lived or worked near the rail crossing said that it's long been a dangerous location. They favor plans to build an underpass below the LIRR tracks, but they also called for at least one other safety upgrade that some state legislators are also trying to procure.
Jesus Hernandez, Miguel Luna and Saul Martinez were killed in the crash. The three had gotten off work at a nearby Fine Fare supermarket on Tuesday at around 4:00 p.m., according to police, then the men went to a barbershop, about 200 yards from the railroad crossing.
A witness told police that after the men left the barber shop, they got into a minor crash with another car. They then headed away toward the crossing, according to police, who also said that their SUV drove around the crossing gates.
The owner and employees at a metalwork factory that had been at the crossing for 26 years, until its relocation last year, said that over that time, they’d seen more vehicles illegally cross the junction than they could count.
Charles Singleton, a machine worker at Precision Acme Threading, said that he had countless times seen cars approach the lowered gates and “simply keep on going.”
“A lot of times,” he continued, he’d seen tractor trailers ride up to the crossing arms too fast, and too close, and “rip the gate down.”
The reason that Precision Acme Threading had moved away from the crossing is that the state took over its location through eminent domain. On the site, the MTA is planning to build an underpass beneath the crossing.
Annette Farragher, the president of Precision Acme, said that the underpass is very much needed.
“It's very important that it gets taken care of,” she told PIX11 News. “There's kids there, too,” she said. “And walkers. It needs to get done.”
Singleton added that another safeguard could be helpful as well.
“You know how they put red light cameras [at intersections]?” he asked. “They should put them at the railroad crossings."
The state legislature has had the same thought. Bills proposing such cameras are now pending in both the assembly and the senate in Albany.
State Sen. Kevin Thomas, a Democrat from Levittown, introduced the senate bill. He said that the threat of a major fine should help prevent people from crossing illegally.
His proposal will get reaction from the public on Friday afternoon. At 3:00 P.M., in Mineola, state senators will hold a hearing on the condition of the LIRR.