NEW YORK – Ellen Brody was driving home from her jewelry-store job, inching her SUV through suburban traffic toward a railroad crossing, when she became the center of a commuter-train crash that killed her and five rail riders.
As investigators strove Wednesday to understand how her car ended up boxed between crossing gates as the train bore down, so did those who knew Brody as an outgoing, thoughtful mother of three who was mindful of safety.
She was not "somebody who was careless — not risky when it came to her safety or others,'" said Paul Feiner, a longtime friend and the town supervisor in Greenburgh, an area near the crash site in Valhalla.
Brody, 49, got out to check her vehicle after a guardrail came down on top of it, and then got back in her car and drove forward onto the tracks just before the moment of impact Tuesday evening, a witness told news media. The vehicle and the train exploded in flames, killing five passengers.
She was on her way home to Edgemont from the ICD Contemporary Jewelry shop in Chappaqua, friends said.
"She was such a good person, such an amazing mom, a friend like you wouldn't believe," co-worker Virginia Shasha told WABC-TV. "I have to tell you — whoever she encountered in life ... they always left smiling."
Devoted to her three daughters in their teens and 20s, Brody was also a member involved in almost everything at Chabad of the Rivertowns, helping generate camaraderie as the synagogue grew to 300 families in 12 years, Rabbi Benjy Silverman said.
"She was definitely the connector," warm and outgoing, he said. "She was passionate about Judaism, she was passionate about her kids, and she did a great job of fulfilling the values that were important to her."
One of them was being a good sport. When the synagogue asked her and her husband, author and journalist Alan Brody, to play bride and groom about six years ago to demonstrate Jewish wedding customs to children, she not only agreed but showed up in her wedding dress from years before, Silverman said.
"That's just an example of how she was always there for us," he said. "Always there with a smile."
Ellen Brody and her husband also had helped set up a student news network in town. Alan Brody, originally from Durban, South Africa, created the graphic novel "White Shaka Boy."
One of their daughters is a college graduate, Danielle Brody, who had worked as an intern at Westchester's Journal News.
Another daughter, Alexa Brody, is a junior at Edgemont High School, where staffers offered grieving students counseling and allowed them to go home Wednesday if they wished, according to officials at the Edgemont Community Council.
On his Facebook page, Alan Brody thanked "those who shared their condolences for the terrible tragedy that took my beloved wife, Ellen, whom so many of you knew."
He said her funeral will be held Friday morning at Chabad of the Rivertowns.