Lone survivor of 1982 Herricks Road crash hopes story can save lives

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The collision that killed three people at a railroad crossing in Westbury has a Williston Park woman reliving the day she almost lost her life decades ago.

Kathleen Caemmerer was 17 years old in 1982 when a van carrying her and nine others drove around the gates at the Herricks Road crossing and was hit by a train. She was the only one in the vehicle who survived. She suffered a massive skull fracture, a broken leg and other injuries.

"I woke up in the hospital six weeks after it happened, I was comatose, and then I was in some kind of semi-conscious state," says Caemmerer. "So I woke up in the hospital with no idea of how I got there and my mother had to tell me."

Caemmerer's father, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, died just three weeks before the collision.

MORE: Crews work around the clock to repair damage at Westbury LIRR station | Surveillance video shows deadly LIRR train crash in Westbury 

Today, Herricks Road now goes underneath the train tracks. All grade crossings between Floral Park and Hicksville will be eliminated as part of the LIRR's Third Track project, but there are still many other crossings that remain.

Sen. Charles Schumer is proposing a bill that would pay for safety improvements at grade crossings.

"They have great systems now at crossings -- the new ones -- that are much safer in terms of lighting, the road size and warnings," says Schumer.

As for Caemmerer, she is now 54 years old. She says she has needed crutches to get around for years and suffers from guilt about being the only person to survive the collision. She hopes her survival will help save the lives of others.

"People who forget history are doomed to repeat it," says Caemmerer. "You might beat these trains once or twice, but sooner or later, it is going to get you. Stop playing chicken with the trains."

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