Family of girl in train accident considers legal action

The family of a Ridgefield woman whose car was struck on the railroad tracks at Topstone Crossing in Redding is considering legal action.

“I advised her to go see a lawyer or speak to someone about this,” said Nick Triantafillou, whose 21-year-old daughter, Stephanie, followed GPS directions onto the tracks.

Following directions

On Friday night, Jan. 12, Stephanie was driving from her house to a friend’s house in Danbury and was trying to cut though on back roads to avoid using the highway. She was following GPS directions that told her to go in the direction of the train tracks on Topstone Road. She said that it was dark and foggy and she got confused, and didn’t realize she had driven onto the tracks.

Stephanie was able to escape from her car before it was hit by the approaching train. She went to the home of a Mikaela Dalessio, who lives at the Old Cider Mill house on the border between Ridgefield and Redding.

In a phone call on Friday, Jan. 19, Nick Triantafillou said that his daughter’s car — a Volkswagen Jetta — had been in good shape.

“I just had it serviced at Volkswagen in Danbury,” he said.

Yet, also on Friday, MTA spokesperson Nancy Gamerman said that the car, “stalled on the tracks.”

According to Gamerman, the driver — Stephanie — was being directed by GPS instructions, and was issued a summons for using a handheld device while driving.

Gamerman added that the incident is under investigation. 

Panic attacks

While Stephanie was unharmed physically from the incident, she is still very shaken up, her parents said.

“Ever since the accident, my daughter has been having panic attacks whenever she gets behind the wheel of a car,” said her mother.

Several evenings after the accident, Stephanie drove to CVS in her father’s car and called her mother from the car in a panic, according to her father.

Loss of the car

Stephanie’s parents said they feel very bad about the loss of the car.

“I am really happy nothing happened to Stephanie; however, she worked very hard for that car and now she doesn't have a car anymore,” Nick said.

“She saved up her money for it, working over the summer as a cashier in a restaurant that I own,” he said. “It was her first car. She only had it for a few months and had only driven it 60 miles.”

“The car was a gift she got for herself,” he added. “She shouldn’t not have a car anymore.”

Nick said his daughter went through a scary ordeal, “which didn’t have to happen if the area had been more clearly marked. It could have happened to anybody.”

This is the second Metro-North train accident to take place at a Redding crossing in a month. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, at around 9:10 p.m., another train had struck a vehicle at the Topstone crossing. No one was injured. The incident is still being investigated.

In addition, Redding resident Fritz Morris — who lives on Fire Hill Road off of Simpaug in Redding — said that at the beginning of 2017, he witnessed another incident at the Topstone crossing when a train nearly struck a car that was on the track.

“My wife and I live about a minute from the crossing. She had come home one evening and said there was a car stuck on the tracks,” Morris said.

Morris and his wife drove over to help him.

“When we got there, there were a few other cars there. The driver was distressed. He was a good 50 feet north of the crossing,” Morris said.

According to Morris, the driver was “really embedded on the tracks, and all of a sudden the train started coming up from Branchville. We turned on our lights and flashers and the train engineers slowed down and stop before a collision,” he said. “We all called the police.”

Morris said he feels very strongly that something should be done to improve safety in this area.

“Local people know what the deal is because the track runs parallel to Simpaug. It’s easy to turn on the tracks if you don’t know where you are going,” he said.

He added that the fact that “it’s happened three times is really alarming,” Morris said. “It just seems like Metro North is not taking responsibility for something that could become a more safe condition.”

Morris suggested there should be improved signage.

“It’s a pinpoint in the road and I think that the town and Metro-North needs to take further action to prevent a catastrophe from happening.”