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Train destroys car in Deer Park, driver shaken

A new rental car was destroyed -- and its driver left badly shaken -- when a Long Island Rail Road commuter train struck the vehicle Thursday evening after the car's driver mistakenly turned onto the train tracks in Deer Park.

The driver, Luke Harris of Bay Shore, 25, was still visibly shaken by the experience, more than an hour afterward, as he sat in a chair in the rental car company office filling out paperwork. He alternately described the events as "the worst day of my life," and, a few moments later, "a great day" because there were no injuries.

Harris rented a 2012 Chevy Cruze mid-size sedan about nine days ago, and was returning it about 6 p.m. Thursday to the Deer Park Hertz location at 480 Commack Rd. He was driving the Chevy, following his mother's car north on Commack Road, Harris said. Right after going over the railroad crossing, she turned left into the rental car parking lot, but when Harris turned behind her, he had actually turned partially on to the railroad right-of-way and tracks, he said.

The lighting in the area was bad, Harris said, and all he could see clearly was the lighted Hertz rental location sign, he said. "It was deceiving. I thought it was the entrance, but it wasn't," he said.

The car's right tire got stuck in the soft ground alongside the tracks, he said, and he couldn't get the car to move. "I got out of the car and I yelled for someone to help, yelled for someone to call 911," he said.

Three passers-by tried to help, one getting behind the wheel of the car, while Harris and the others tried to push and rock the car free for three minutes, he said. "Then I saw the train coming in the distance. I yelled, 'Get out of the car! Get out of the way! There's a train coming!' There was nothing we could do."

They all got clear of the car, and the train seemed to be slowing down as it approached, he said, but it could not prevent a crash and the demolition of the car.

The Long Island Rail Road temporarily suspended service on the Ronkonkoma branch east of Farmingdale until 8 p.m., but the LIRR said there were delays of up to 75 minutes.

Commack Road was closed in both directions between Long Island Avenue and Marcus Boulevard, police said.

Police from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were handling the investigation and were assisted by Suffolk emergency services officers, but officials said there was no apparent criminality involved.

"I never got into an accident before this, and I've been driving since I was 17," Harris said. "Thankfully, nobody was hurt."

With Ellen Yan

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