NT police hunt for cause of train-truck crash that killed three

May 19—NORTH TONAWANDA — North Tonawanda police and city officials say they have more questions than answers as they investigate what led to a triple fatal truck and train crash Friday night.

The grinding crash, which left a Dodge pickup truck wedged underneath the engine of an Amtrak passenger train, took the lives of a 69-year-old man, a 66-year-old woman and a 6-year-old child. The victims have not been identified by authorities, but are believed to all be related.

At a Sunday afternoon news conference, North Tonawanda Police Chief Keith Glass stressed that his department's detective bureau was still in the early stages of gathering evidence. Glass said investigators were focused on scouring the area of Felton Street and River Road in a search of cameras that may have captured some video of the crash.

"This is an ongoing investigation, it's going to take some time to gather all the facts and determine what took place," Glass said.

Witnesses reportedly told police that at around 7:56 p.m., the pickup truck, which had been traveling north on River Road, made a right-hand turn onto Felton Street. Glass said at that time, a special saturation patrol was underway in the city, with his officers working in tandem with other local law enforcement agencies, including the Lewiston and Lockport Police departments, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and the Niagara County Drug Task Force.

"We do know that a Town of Lewiston (Police patrol) car, who was paired with one of our officers, did conduct a traffic stop on Felton, on the east side of the train tracks," Glass said. "This stop resulted in the vehicle being towed. This stop did not take place on the (train) tracks, as speculated on social media."

Glass said he was unsure of the reason for the traffic stop.

Witnesses said that the driver of the pickup truck, after making the turn onto Felton Street, appeared to stop on the first of two sets of train tracks, behind the Lewiston Police patrol car. While the truck was stopped, the Amtrak passenger train, #281, heading north from New York City to Niagara Falls, began approaching the Felton Street crossing.

Police said they don't know how fast the Amtrak train was traveling, but one law enforcement source said, "It was moving at a pretty good clip."

Witnesses said that as the train got closer to the Felton Street crossing, the lights on the safety gates there began flashing and started to lower. As the gates lowered, witnesses said the pickup truck appeared to become trapped between the gates on the east and westbound sides of the tracks.

One witness reportedly told police that the driver of the pickup truck appeared to attempt to back off the tracks, but stopped before hitting a safety gate. Other witnesses said the westbound lane of Felton Street may have been blocked at the time by a tow truck.

The Amtrak engine slammed into the pickup, driving it almost 100 yards down the track before coming to a stop.

First responders said all three victims were trapped in the truck when they arrived. The North Tonawanda Fire Department said all available off-duty firefighters were called out to the crash scene and additional heavy equipment was brought in to help extricate the victims.

With ambulances standing by, all three victims were declared dead at the scene.

Glass said officers, firefighters and other first responders at the scene were badly shaken by what they witnessed.

"We're human beings," the police chief said. "We're grieving like the rest of the community."

Glass said peer counseling and mental health resources were being offered to those who responded to the crash.

Amtrak officials said there were no injuries to any of the 21 passengers and crew on board the train and said they would work with local law enforcement in the investigation of the crash.

The train was traveling on tracks owned by the CSX Railroad and North Tonawanda Mayor Austin Tylec called on CSX to "partner" with the city to improve safety at their rail crossings.

"As mayor of North Tonawanda, the safety and security of residents is always a paramount piece of importance," Tylec said. "Nothing is more important."

In addition to CSX, Tylec said he had also spoken to state officials on "how to work together to prevent another incident like this."

"The city is committed to take more actions and we will look at additional safety measures, including enhanced lighting and signage," Tylec said. "Our goal is to prevent such tragedies in the future and ensure the safety of all our residents."