The engineer of the Metro-North train that slammed into an SUV at a Westchester railroad crossing, killing six people, ran back into the burning train after the fiery crash to rescue people inside, his attorney told NBC 4 New York exclusively Thursday.
The engineer, Steven Smalls, met with National Transportation Safety Board investigators Thursday. His attorney, Jeffrey Chartier, told NBC 4 New York he was "completely cooperative" in his meeting with the NTSB, described as a "standard investigation and interview."
Smalls did everything he could to stop the train from impact, and after the crash in Valhalla, "did everything he could do to help people even though he was injured himself," Chartier said after he and Smalls left their interview with the NTSB.
"He went in and out of the train dragging people out," he said. "He went in there risking his own life until he was overcome by the smoke and the fire. He went back and directed others to get off the train in a safe fashion afterward."
Chartier described Smalls as "devastated."
"He saw horrors someone shouldn't have to see and did everything he could to help every single individual involved," he said.
He added that he couldn't detail what he and his client discussed with the NTSB but said, "Just know that from tragic circumstances, someone's true character shows, and he's a real hero."
Smalls declined to speak to NBC 4 New York.
NTSB Vice Chairman Robert Sumwalt said Thursday that Smalls told investigators he saw the SUV move onto the railroad crossing and that he hit the emergency brake.
The agency hasn't mapped out how far before the Commerce Street crossing Smalls hit the emergency brake on the train, which takes about 950 feet and 30 seconds to stop, Sumwalt said.
The train was also traveling at 58 mph, just under the 60 mph speed limit, he said.
Ellen Brody's SUV was in the danger zone inside railroad crossing gates for about 30 seconds before the train smashed into it, according to Sumwalt. All traffic and crossing signals were working properly.
Six hundred and fifty people were on board train No. 659 when it slammed into an SUV stopped at a crossing in Valhalla at about 6:30 p.m., less than an hour after leaving Grand Central. The train burst into flames and pushed the SUV nearly 10 car lengths down the track, killing the driver of the SUV and five passengers in the first car.