Victims Honored, Safety Debated on Metro Crash Anniversary

Honoring those who died

At the time it was called an "unbelievable nightmare," and the images of the twisted wreckage associated with the deadliest crash in Metro history will haunt those who survived for years.

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of that Metro crash on the Red Line that killed a train operator and eight passengers and injured dozens of others.

No one who witnessed the aftermath of the crash, even from the safety of a television screen, can forget the twisted wreckage and shock that day, when a Red Line train slammed into another train stopped on the tracks between the Fort Totten and Takoma Metro stations.

A memorial ceremony to honor those who died was held at Fort Totten at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The service included remarks from non-denominational clergy and dignitaries. A bronze plaque engraved with the names of those who died was unveiled. At 10:30 a.m., the entire Metro system paused for a moment of silence.

Train operator Jeanice McMillan died trying to prevent the collision on June 22, 2009, by activating the emergency brake, according to National Transportaion Safety Board investigators.

"This past year has been probably the hardest year of my whole life," said her son, Jordan McMillan, 20, at the service. "This was not supposed to happen. We're not supposed to be here right now. And since we are, we all have to come together and just love one another and just move on with our lives. It's going to be hard moving on, but we've just got to keep going."

"They didn't forget our family, they didn't forget our loved ones, so it feels good to know that they're having this for our family," said her brother, Vernard McMillan.

Veronica Dubose, a 29-year-old mother of two, was killed in the crash. Her family said the victims' deaths won't be in vain.

"Much like she passed in this crash, her statement is such as, 'I'm laying my life down because I want to help overhaul the safety of the Metro system,'" said Dubose's stepmother, Yavonne.

Lavonda King was on her way to pick up her son when she was killed in the crash. Her family, like so many others, live with that pain every day.

"The loss is there. That void is there," said King's cousin, the Rev. John Brown. "Having to remember that awful day in which the news came is still a very painful situation."

Doves will be released near the site of the crash Tuesday evening. Family members of those killed gathered on the New Hampshire Avenue bridge at 6:30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. vigil The bridge is decorated with flowers, wreaths and pictures in memory of the victims.

The transit union also held a vigil at its headquarters in Forestville, Md., Tuesday evening.

Metro interim General Manager Richard Sarles said the greatest tribute the agency can offer is to rededicate itself to safety. Some officials said Metro has been focusing more on safety since the crash but still has much work to do.

NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman told News4 that money isn't the answer.

"Additional funds and funding go a long way toward addressing some of the challenges that Metro has with respect to equipment and property, but money is not the only solution," she said. "They can make a change at no cost to them when it comes to safety culture, and that's what they need to be focused on and on top of right now is changing that safety culture within the organization. No amount of money can produce a good safety culture. That takes a will and a desire to do that and a commitment from all levels of the organization." 

The NTSB still hasn't announced an official cause of the crash, though investigations have uncovered problems like faulty track circuits that may not have alerted the moving train that another train was stopped on the track ahead.

"We need the system, but we also need to be safe, and we don't need to praying before we get on it, whether we're going to get from A to point B," said Steve Cochran, Veronica Dubose's uncle.

The NTSB has scheduled a July 27 meeting to consider a final report on the accident.

"Over the past year, the Safety Board has been taking an unprecedented look, from top-to-bottom, to determine exactly why that fatal accident on the Red Line happened," Hersman said Tuesday at the opening of a meeting about an Arizona motor coach crash. "In the weeks and months that followed the accident, the Safety Board issued two rounds of urgent safety recommendations, and this past February, we held a three-day public hearing."

On Capitol Hill, the memories of the crash were keen. In advance of the one-year anniversary, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin from Maryland pressed for national safety legislation for transit systems Monday. They said regulation and oversight is lacking for transportation systems like Metro.

Sen. Jim Webb from Virginia wasn’t able to attend the press conference, but he sent word he will work with his colleagues to ensure a safer Metro transit system. 

Next week the Senate Banking Committee will review transit safety.

Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari said rail transit doesn’t have comprehensive federal safety regulation, oversight or even the authority to enforce the current safety rules, the Associated Press reported.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us