Saturday Marked 4 Years Since Deadly Red Line Crash

The 'unbelievable nightmare' changed lives - and the transit system

Four years ago Saturday, futures, families and dreams were lost in the worst disaster in Metro’s history.

The crash of two Metrorail trains traveling between the Takoma Park station in Maryland and the Fort Totten station in Washington, D.C., claimed the lives of nine people and injured 80. The accident was called an “unbelievable nightmare” by then-D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

A candelight vigil for the nine people who died was held at 7 p.m. Saturday at Greater Saint Paul Baptist Church on New Hampshire Avenue.

Now, the transit agency says it has invested millions in its system and changed important procedures to improve safety. It has also settled all claims brought by the families of the nine people killed, according to the Washington Post.

But the affects of the crash still linger. This week, when Metro revealed that emergency call buttons in some trains had not worked for years, some on social media cited a famous quote from the NTSB investigation into the deadly crash four years ago, a quote that called Metro to task for its "lack of a safety culture."

Here's what happened four years ago, and a look at the nine who lost their lives.

'Unbelievable nightmare'


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At 5 p.m., the height of rush hour, on Monday, June 22, 2009, an older six-car train headed towards Shady Grove collided with a waiting train stopped just ahead of the Fort Totten station. The impact of the crash led to the colliding train to derail.

Numerous panicked passengers were trapped in the wreckage of the rail cars. About 200 emergency rescue crews from D.C. Fire and EMS, as well as from Fairfax, Arlington, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, extricated people wedged in the debris.

Bloody seats from the smashed cars spilled out onto the tracks. The survivors classified as the “walking wounded” were led to a secure area and marked with colored tags to indicate their wounds.

The catastrophic wreck cost the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metro, $25.5 million. It also changed the transit agency.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced in July 2010 that the fatal Metro collision was caused by a failure of track circuit modules. The automatic train control system could no longer detect the first train, allowing a second train to strike it from the rear.

But, the NTSB said, "contributing to the accident was the lack of a safety culture within WMATA." 

"The layers of safety deficiencies uncovered during the course of this investigation are troubling and reveal a systemic breakdown of safety management at all levels," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, in a press release announcing the agency's findings.

Since then, WMATA has invested $5.5 billion to install new rail, ties, platforms, escalators, signals, lighting and communication systems. That is the largest capital investment -- and work effort -- since the system's original construction in the early 1970s.

Metro started notifying passengers of delays, problems and closures at stations and on buses through social media.

And earlier this month, Metro unveiled its 12-year plan which includes building new underground pedestrian connections to make transferring faster and easier, running additional rush hour trains on blue line, adding touch screen kiosks both in stations and on trains, adding 400 new rail cars, and creating priority traffic signals for buses.

But the concerns about safety remain. Just this week, Metro revealed that emergency call buttons on some trains had not worked for years -- and that the transit agency knew at least since 2009 that there was a problem.

Metro has made changes to train configurations as a result and is updating the call button system.

The Nine Victims

The nine people who lost their lives in the crash came from a range of backgrounds.

There was a nurse. A new beauty-salon owner. A major general. A newlywed. A Redskins fan. A bible-school teacher. The train operator.

The recently retired Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr. and his wife, Ann Wherley, both 62, had been married almost 40 years, and friends said they did almost everything together. The new grandparents were high school sweethearts and were the king and queen of their senior prom. At the time of the crash, the Wherleys were returning home from a visit to Walter Reed Army Hospital, where they were training to become volunteers. As a command pilot for the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. Wherley was the leader of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base. He ordered fighter jets over the Capitol to keep the Washington area safe during the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2011. Ann Wherley was a breast cancer survivor and a successful mortgage broker. She loved gourmet cooking and throwing dinner parties for her friends to showcase her latest recipes.

Newlywed Ana Fernandez, 40, was saving up money for a formal church wedding with her husband, Oscar Flores. A former widow, Fernandez was raising five of her six children when she was killed. Evelyn, her oldest daughter, said her mother always worked two jobs to take care of her kids. The Washington Post reported Fernandez had only just returned two weeks ago to her old nightly commute to the District and a custodial job cleaning offices.

The youngest victim, LoVonda "Nikki" King, age 23, was in the midst of opening her own beauty salon, called LaVonda's House of Beauty. A 2003 graduate of Largo High School, King left behind two sons, ages 2 and 3. She was planning to get married to her fiancee later in the year. As King boarded the train that day she was talking to her mom about her beauty salon which she signed paperwork for just a few days earlier.

Cameron Williams, 37, was heading to work as a nighttime contract laborer. A a graduate of Coolidge High School, Williams was talking to his grandmother and aunt before heading to the metro station.

The driver of the train, Jeanice McMillan, 42, joined Metro in 2007 to send her son, Jordan, to college. As a single mother, McMillan loved being a train operator because she felt like she was helping so many people get to work every day, her friends and family said.

Dennis Hawkins, 54, was known as the “heartbeat" of Whittier Elementary School in Northwest D.C., working as a non-instructional aide. Children and parents were said to love Hawkins. Hawkins earned his Master's degree from the University of the District of Columbia. On the day of the accident, he was on his way to teach vacation Bible school at Bethesda Baptist Church.

Proud Texan Mary Doolittle, 59, worked at the American Nurse’s Association. She developed an international outreach program and helped with global accreditation for nurses. She was planning a trip to Italy with her partner of 15 years.

On her way to attend nursing classes in the District, Veronica Dubose, 29, left behind 7-year-old Raja and infant Ava. Raja attended Whittier Education Center, the same school where another crash victim, Dennis Hawkins, worked as an aide. Dubose was a diehard Washington Redskins fan and a graduate of Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in D.C.

After the accident, Whittier school officials said they planned to name its library after Hawkins and were setting up an assistance fund for Dubose's family.



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