MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — A 20-year-old woman survived a 30-foot plunge onto suburban railroad tracks in her SUV after swerving to avoid a child on a bicycle and crashing through an iron fence – narrowly missing an electrified rail and emerging through her sunroof with the help of passers-by, officials said Tuesday.
Stephanie Cacho, 20, of Mount Vernon, was in fair condition at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. The hospital would not describe her injury. It said she declined the chance to talk to a reporter.
"She was very lucky," said Fire Commissioner Noah Lighty. "Think about it: a 30-foot drop, electrified rails, an express train could have been coming through."
Cacho was ticketed for driving unsupervised with only a learner's permit, Metro-North railroad spokesman Dan Brucker said.
Police said Cacho was driving above the tracks in Mount Vernon, a few blocks north of the Bronx, at about 7:45 p.m. Monday when, according to witnesses, she swerved to avoid the bicycling child. She lost control of her Jeep Cherokee, plowed through the fence and plunged to the tracks below.
Lighty said that when firefighters arrived, two young men were already down on the tracks helping Cacho get out. He said he didn't know how the men got there – firefighters used a 35-foot ladder – but said they may have risked their lives if the power was still on.
Lighty said he did not have the men's names, but Rohan Britton of Mount Vernon told reporters at the scene that he helped Cacho escape through her sunroof.
"It was already mashed up a little bit so I just bent it open, opened it and pulled her out," Britton told radio station WINS. "There was a lot of blood."
Messages left on Britton's cell phone were not returned Tuesday.
As the mangled Jeep lay on its side on the tracks, Metro-North stopped trains in both directions and called in a crane to lift the wreck back up to street level. Brucker said the SUV barely missed an electrified "third rail," which he said could have killed the driver and set the car afire.
He estimated that about 10,000 commuters were affected, although partial service was quickly restored and trains were back to normal by midnight. On Tuesday, a railroad truck blocked the hole in the iron fence.
The railroad is below grade mostly at the southern end of the line, as the tracks approach New York City's Grand Central Terminal.
In 1997, five people were injured in Mount Vernon when a falling car hit a Connecticut-bound train.