Quick response foils rail station rape

July 2, 2008 4:56:13 PM PDT
The bravery of a Long Island Rail Road train crew is being credited with stopping a rape in progress at a Long Island train station. The crew members came to the aid of a 28-year-old woman as she was apparently being sexually assaulted on the track bed just off the eastern end the Freeport train station.

Authorities said the crew's response led to an immediate arrest by MTA police of an Island Park man who was later charged with the assault on Tuesday afternoon.

The Nassau County district attorney says 48-year-old David Thornton was arraigned Wednesday on charges of first-degree rape. He pleaded not guilty and was held on $500,000 bond or $250,000 cash.

The 28-year-old victim was taken to Nassau University Medical Center, where she was admitted for treatment.

The westbound Babylon train pulled into the Freeport Station at 4:11 p.m., when several customers on the platform reportedly alerted crew members that they heard what sounded like a child's screams coming from the east end of the platform.

Authorities say assistant conductor Eugene Chino immediately ran in that direction while collector Lorraine Martinez alerted engineer Brian Zaderecki to hold the train at the station.

"I could hear yelling and screaming, but I couldn't see anyone," said Chino, 42, who has worked for the railroad for six years. He said he realized the call for help was coming from the track bed and climbed down to investigate. "She was screaming for help."

Meanwhile, MTA police officers Kevin Smith and Michelle Russo, who happened to be at the Freeport Station on an unrelated investigation, also responded to the scene of the attack, police said.

"The timing of the police was just incredible," train conductor James Gannon said.

Chino said he used his LIRR cell phone to relay information to train engineer Zaderecki and to the Movement Bureau, the railroad's nerve center at Jamaica Station, where supervisors immediately issued a travel restriction to other trains along the route.

Earlier this year, LIRR officials say more than 1,000 cell phones were purchased and issued them to train crews as part of a multi-pronged effort to keep customers and crews updated on train delays or emergencies.

"The quick thinking actions of the LIRR crew members and the MTA Police resulted in the apprehension of a suspect and helped save the victim from further attack," LIRR President Helena Williams said. "We are very proud and grateful that the crew members came to the assistance of the victim without hesitation and the MTA police were able to make an arrest."

MTA Police Chief Michael Coan also commended the train crew and MTA Police Officers for their actions, as well as the customers who helped.

"This is exactly the kind of teamwork we need everyday from our customers, crew and police," he said. "We're grateful that one of our customers heeded our security campaign advice. They saw something and they said something."