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Funerals Held For 2 Of 6 People Killed In Metro-North Crash

VALHALLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Two of the six people killed in Tuesday's Metro-North crash were remembered Friday in Westchester County.

Many young adults were among the mourners at the Dobbs Ferry funeral for Ellen Brody, a 49-year-old mother of three daughters in their teens and 20s.

"She adored her daughters and husband. She was their biggest fan and supporter,'' Rabbi Benjy Silverman.

Silverman said she was "a beautiful soul'' who found the beauty in others and was known for her big, warm smile. People called it "the Ellen smile.''

"One thing we're all reflecting on is Ellen's warmth and her positive nature," Silverman told reporters, including 1010 WINS' Al Jones.

Brody's uncle, Sid Greenberg, was among the crowd packing into the Chabad of the Rivertowns for Brody's funeral.

"Cheerful and helpful, amazing -- a great mother to three beautiful daughters," he told CBS2's Janelle Burrell.

Funerals Being Held For 2 Killed In Metro-North Crash

Family friend and Town of Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner said Brody touched so many with her involvement, shown by the turnout at her funeral.

"She wasn't pretentious, related to everybody, just a role model for being nice," he said.

Services are also being held Friday afternoon in Mount Kisco for Eric Vandercar, a 53-year-old father of two who worked as a senior managing director at Mesirow Financial.

Eric Vandercar
Eric Vandercar was killed when the Metro-North train he was riding in struck an SUV on Feb. 3, 2015. (credit: Mesirow Financial)

The two were killed along with four other rail passengers when a Harlem Line train crashed into Brody's SUV that was stopped on the tracks at a railroad crossing in Valhalla.

PHOTOS: Deadly Metro-North Accident

According to investigators' preliminary findings, Brody's car was in the danger zone inside railroad crossing gates for about half a minute before the train hit.

Funeral Held For 2 Killed In Metro-North Crash

Brody got ahead of the crossing gate in inching traffic, then got out of her car to examine it after the gate came down and hit the back of it, a witness has said. But then she got back in, seeming unhurried, and advanced onto the track, the witness told news outlets and investigators.

"He described it as if she had enough time to put on her seat belt and the accident driver suddenly pulled forward and as she did so, the train struck her car," National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Sumwalt said Thursday.

Steven Smalls, the train's engineer, also told investigators that he saw the car moving onto the tracks.

"The engineer reported that he saw the car moving onto the tracks," Sumwalt said. "The engineer activated the emergency brake."

Data recorders also show Smalls sounded the horn as the train bore down on the crossing, traveling 58 mph in a 60 mph zone, Sumwalt said.

Flashing warning lights at the crossing illuminated 39 seconds before the crash and the gates came down a few seconds later, Sumwalt said. That would leave about 30 seconds that the SUV was inside the gates.

Investigators haven't found any problems with the warning signals or the nearby traffic lights, which are synched to let drivers clear the crossing when a train is coming, Sumwalt said. The crossing also had painted warnings on its pavement and a sign 65 feet from the rail warns drivers not to stop on the tracks, he noted.

The agency hasn't mapped out how far before the crossing the engineer hit the emergency brakes on the train, which takes about 950 feet and 30 seconds to stop, Sumwalt said.

After the impact, flames enveloped the SUV and part of the train, and the electrified third rail pierced them. Hundreds of passengers scrambled through spreading smoke and fear, some helping each other to escape despite their own injuries.

Trains hit cars on the tracks many times a year, but such crashes rarely kill train riders. Investigators have emphasized that they want to figure out why this one did, becoming the deadliest accident in the 32-year history of Metro-North.

Investigators are looking for any elements that may have intensified the fire, which they believe was ignited by the SUV's gas tank.

Funerals Being Held For 2 Killed In Metro-North Crash

The NTSB has been examining such factors as the adequacy of emergency exits, the crashworthiness of the train cars and the unusual design of the Metro-North line's third rail.

It's the only U.S. railroad using a so-called "bottom contact" system which is much safer for maintenance workers and much more reliable in wintry weather, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported.

Investigators believe this is the first incident ever in which the third rail was dislodged and ended up piercing the floor of a passenger car – feeding the fire that melted the interior of the front train car.

The agency also is looking into how familiar Brody was with her car and her route, whether she was using a cellphone and whether the backed-up traffic played a role.

Another major question is why did Brody get out to look at her SUV when the warning gate came down on the back of the vehicle?

An investigator tells CBS2 that Brody had just purchased the SUV and perhaps she was overly sensitive to possible damage.

"I think everything needs to be looked at," Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said Thursday. "It's fair game when something like this happens. But ultimately, things happen, bad things happen and this might be a bad thing that happened where nobody is at fault."

On Friday, NTSB investigators were busy examining digital evidence from the train.

The agency said an investigator was working to download information from the event recorder of the Metro-North train.

They will look at the train's black box as well.

Also killed in the crash were Walter Liedtke, a curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Joseph Nadol, 42, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive; Aditya Tomar, 41, who worked in asset management at JPMorgan; and Robert Dirks, 36, a research scientist at D.E. Shaw Research in Manhattan.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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