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Police identify Hempstead woman electrocuted by LIRR third rail

MTA police and Freeport police investigate on Saturday

MTA police and Freeport police investigate on Saturday after a woman died on the LIRR tracks.   Credit: Jim Staubitser

The Long Island Rail Road has released the name of the woman who was electrocuted on its tracks in Freeport early Saturday.

The LIRR on Monday identified the woman as Kay Bernese-Lopez, 20, of Hempstead.

Officials received a report of three females on or near the tracks in Freeport about 6 a.m., LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said. Bernese-Lopez contacted the third rail and was later pronounced dead at South Nassau Communities Hospital, Donovan said.

Bernese-Lopez’s family could not be reached for comment Monday.

Electrocutions are relatively rare on the LIRR, which is among very few commuter railroads to use an electrified third rail, as opposed to the more common system of electrified overhead catenary wires. Most of the LIRR system is powered by a third rail conducting 750 volts of direct current, including its Main Line through Ronkonkoma and its Montauk line through Babylon.

In 2013, a Freeport man was electrocuted after being pushed onto to the tracks at the Bellmore LIRR station by another man, who was charged with murder, according to police. And in 2012, an LIRR worker from Ronkonkoma died when he fell onto an electrified third rail in Queens Village.

Although the LIRR shields its third rail using a plastic cover, they still pose a threat to trespassers. Lori Ebbighausen, vice president of corporate safety for the LIRR, said in January that the railroad averages about 20 trespasser incidents each year — “the majority of which do result in fatal injuries.” Most of those incidents involve trains striking people on the tracks.

Ebbighausen said the railroad routinely assesses the risks of different segments of its system and when appropriate, seeks funding to install high-security fencing to keep trespassers off tracks. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 2015-2019 Capital Program, the LIRR budgeted $2.7 million in 2017 for fencing along its right of way, $1 million in 2018 and $300,000 in 2019.

Railroad safety consultant Carl Berkowitz, of Ridge, estimated that in “nine-out-of-ten” incidents, any contact with an electrified third rail results in death. He recalled working on a case involving a subway worker who survived a third-rail shock with third-degree burns “over 80 percent of his body.”

He said he was surprised such accidents weren’t more common on the LIRR, which began electrifying its tracks in 1905.

“I don’t think there’s much they can do,” Berkowitz said. “They’re just very lucky.”

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