Driver escapes vehicle before train hits it in Redding
REDDING — Tom Costanzo knew he had to do something when he realized a driver was stuck on train tracks in the path of an oncoming train near his pizzeria Saturday night.
Costanzo, the owner of Tomasinos Pizza N Pasta on Long Ridge Road near the West Redding train station, said the car got stuck after the driver turned onto the tracks in the dark while trying to turn into his restaurant’s driveway.
He said his first thought was to help the driver jack the car up to free it, but that’s when the arms came down for the train crossing and he heard the train horn blow.
The driver was still in the car.
“I told him to get the (expletive) out of the car,” Costanzo told Hearst Connecticut Media while first responders were still working the site of the collision Saturday night.
The driver was able to get out before the train collided with the sedan, crushing most of the engine compartment.
The collision happened shortly before 8 p.m. on the Metro-North Railroad tracks.
As crews worked to investigate and clear the site, substitute bus service was provided on the train service’s Danbury Branch. Around 9:40 p.m., officials said the buses were delayed about 90 to 100 minutes. The train service resumed shortly after 10 p.m.
“It was like watching a YouTube video,” Castanzo said.
Costanzo said the driver is a retired Ridgefield High School teacher, who is a loyal customer at his pizza shop.
He said the former teacher was “ visibly shaken” after the crash and that all he could say after was “wow.”
A conductor on the train was also shaking when she got off the train, Costanzo said.
First Selectman Julia Pemberton, was at the scene while crews loaded the crushed car onto a flatbed around 9 p.m.
She said she got a text message from Redding Police Chief Mark O’Donnell after the incident happened. She said the chief told her no one had been in the car during the crash.
Dottie DeLuca, who owns and lives at the Fleur De Lis antique shop near the station, said she didn't see the accident, but heard the train horn and came down to see what had happened.
She described Castanzo as a hero for getting the driver of the car.
“The person got out of the car in time only because the chef (Castanzo) heard the horn,” she said on scene Saturday night.
DeLuca said she has been outspoken about the intersection in the past because it’s difficult for drivers to see whether they’re turning into a driveway or onto the train tracks.
“It's so dark,” she said. “There’s no light here.”
She recalled another accident near the same station in 2012, which left two people dead.
Pemberton said the intersection was improved “but not perfect,” after work done at the crossing earlier this year.
Costanzo said over the years he's witnessed a number of accidents, but this was a first.
“Never saw a car get hit by a train,” he said, “That was scary.”