A New Scotland, NY, man thanks God - and his Land Rover - for saving the life of himself and his two daughters after they were hit by a freight train. Twice.
Peter Salerno, 38, has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. God. His children. And his Land Rover Discovery.
Salerno admits he gives God most of the credit for allowing himself and his two daughters, 11 and 8, to escape with scrapes and bruises after their Discovery was hit by not one but two freight trains. But he also reserves some of the credit for his Land Rover.
"I'll be doing commercials for Land Rover within a month." He said.
OK…so how did all of this come about?
It seems that Salerno and his two daughters Kelly and Sydney climbed into the 2001 Discovery and headed out to a Pop Warner football game, where Kelly would be cheerleading. When he reached the train crossing, he craned his neck to see if it was safe to go. He and his neighbors are accustomed to doing this, as the crossing is marked only with a white, x-shaped sign. There are no lights or automatic gates.
He saw the train alright; it was far away and barely moving. That’s when things got hairy.
"I looked to the left and saw a train way down, and he looked like he was barely moving," said Salerno. He crossed the first set of tracks and looked to the right to check for a train on the westbound set of tracks. "I looked and looked again and didn't see anything. When I got onto the tracks I looked and he was right there."
Whether there was – or wasn’t - a train whistle is currently under investigation.
Remarkably, everyone was OK…even though the entire front end of his Discovery was, well, missing. The vehicle held together, though, and they were all safe and sound. At least for the moment. That’s when he realized that they had landed smack on top of the other set of tracks, the one on which that slow eastbound train Salerno had seen before appeared to be picking up speed.
"I looked out the window and the front end of the car was gone so I knew it wouldn't start. The doors wouldn't open either."
They were trapped. All they could do was wait for the other freight train to arrive.
"I said Girls, I am so sorry, but we're going to be hit again."
He estimates he had 20 seconds to watch the train approach. In that time, Salerno, who is broad-shouldered and muscular, grabbed one daughter with each arm and pulled them into the driver's seat with him. "I just grabbed them without undoing their seatbelts," he said. "I tried to shield them and then just hugged the driver side door."
"I normally wouldn't have the presence of mind to do that," said Salerno, "I just credit God Almighty himself with telling me to grab the girls. After the second train hit, I looked back at where Sydney was sitting and it was just gone."
All three Salernos said they remembered the atmosphere feeling eerily silent. It’s impossible to imagine what must have been going through their minds. They sat, father and daughters crouched together, watching the train roll toward them, getting bigger and bigger, until their entire field of vision was filled by the great smoking engine of the second train. There was the sound of glass shattering, and the squealing of a train's brakes. This time the car was pushed completely off the tracks. At least, what was left of it.
I said, "Girls, can you move your hands and feet? I had blood running down my forehead and that was upsetting them, so I wiped it away. Where the back seat was just looked like an archway, so we crawled out."
Looking back at the wreck they could see the front passenger side door had been pushed almost entirely into the passenger seat; the seat where Kelly had been sitting before she moved up to her father’s seat.
By this time, Salerno's other children, Adam, 13, and Emily, 12, had run out of the house because they heard the crash.
"I saw the car and I thought they were dead," said Adam, who called 911.
Albany County Sheriff James Campbell said he was stunned that there were any survivors after he saw the remains of the vehicle. "This is my 43rd year doing this and I have never seen anyone walk away from something like this," Campbell said. "This family has a lot to be thankful for at Thanksgiving."
(Evidently, he must not have seen too many Land Rovers involved in crashes over those years.)
The Sheriff's Department is still investigating the incident, and they have an eyewitness, of sorts. Apparently, one of the trains had a video camera that shows a conductor's-eye-view. "We'll be able to know how fast they were going, and when, if ever, they blew their horns," Campbell said.
A spokesman for the train company said state governments are responsible for determining what safety devices are put at a particular railroad crossing.
What? No apology?
And we’re taking bets on what vehicle Mr. Salerno will choose to replace his 2001 Discovery.
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