It was late, about 10:15 p.m., when Janice Esposito arrived at the Bellport, New York, train station; jumped into her Honda Odyssey; and began the 20-minute drive home to her husband and seven-year-old son. She’d just returned from visiting her mother and had traveled the route so many times, she practically drove on autopilot: a left onto Station Road, then a left on Montauk Highway, and then—wham! Out of nowhere on that awful night of October 10, 2017, a car T-boned Esposito’s minivan, propelling her backward some 100 feet onto the railroad tracks. She sat in the minivan, bruised but mostly just stunned by the impact and by the vehicle’s airbags.
As it happens, Pete DiPinto was getting ready for bed. He’d just closed his book and was crawling under the covers when he heard the high-pitched clang of metal on metal and shattering glass coming from not far outside his bedroom window. A volunteer firefighter and retired teacher, DiPinto, 64, never stopped to think. He grabbed a flashlight and, still clad in his pj’s, ran out the door. “Any firefighter would have done what I did,” he told MyNBC5. “We’re always on duty.”
The first car he came upon, 2,000 feet from his front yard, was the one that had hit Esposito. Once DiPinto concluded the driver was OK, he looked around and spotted Esposito’s minivan straddling the railroad tracks. And then he heard a gut-wrenching sound: the bells signaling an oncoming train.
“The gates were starting to come down,” he told Newsday. “I see the headlight of the train.” DiPinto sprinted to Esposito’s minivan and banged on the driver’s side window. She just looked at him, her eyes unfocused. “I don’t know where I am,” she said. She seemed unhurt.
“Honey, you’re on the railroad tracks,” DiPinto shouted. “We have to get you off right now!” He yanked on the handle, but the door was smashed in and jammed shut. The heavy diesel train, traveling at 65 miles per hour, was hurtling toward them. DiPinto ran to the passenger side and threw open the door. Please, God, don’t let her be trapped, he thought. He pushed aside the deflating airbags, grabbed Esposito’s arms, and pulled her toward him across the passenger seat until he could help her out and speed-walk her to safety behind a signal box a few feet away. Within six seconds, he estimates, the train plowed into the minivan. “It was like a Hollywood movie,” DiPinto told reporters the next day.
But this one had a twist. “Last night,” South Country Ambulance chief Greg Miglino told CBS New York, “the hero arrived in pajamas, not in a fire truck.”