spite of the devil
Citizen journalists helped paint picture of train derailment
By Richard L. Stein
The ringing phone awoke me at 8 on Sunday morning.
This cannot be good news, was my first thought.
I was surprised to hear the voice on the other end of the line, my old friend and former photo editor, Alan Zale. “Sorry to wake you,” he said, “but they’re saying there was a derailment at Spuyten Duyvil and it’s a big mess.”
That is how I learned about the 7:20 a.m. crash of Metro-North train 8808 that killed four people, injured dozens more and indefintitely suspended service on the commuter railroad’s Hudson Line.
I am 66-years-old and I have been with The Press for most of my adult life, but readers have rarely seen my byline. I am not usually a frontline writer unless something happens when the office is closed. Then I am the first to get the call.
My name is closely associated with the paper and my home phone number is in the book. As a result, if you sift through our “morgue” you would not find it affixed to sunny feature stories, instead you would see late night fires, bodies in duffle bags dumped under parkway bridges and derailed trains.
I admit, I took some pride in being the first responder for The Press, although reporter Andy Gross and photo editor Marisol Díaz soon took over to flesh out the story.
By the time I had thrown on my clothes, grabbed my wife’s camera and something to jot notes with and raced to the scene, Palisade Avenue, Independence Avenue, Johnson Avenue and Edsall Avenue were all clogged with emergency vehicles of every description; police cruisers from unfamiliar precincts, EMS, hospital and private ambulances, fire department pumpers, hook-and-ladders and rescue trucks.
Police helicopters were hovering overhead in a cloudless sky and several of the force’s police boats were fanning out along the Harlem River shoreline beneath the Henry Hudson Bridge. TV news vans were beginning to arrive and jockey for position.
It was, without question, the biggest, fastest and best-organized disaster response this community has ever seen — all within a tightly confined space on a steep hill.