Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

What Van Dorn Street Metro was like moments after this morning's suicide

January 6, 2012 - 02:01 PM
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How the platform looked after today's death. (Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Battle)

A 56-year-old Alexandria woman intentionally set herself on the Van Dorn Street Metro station tracks this morning around 7:15 a.m. and a Blue Line train traveling toward Largo Town Center killed her moments later — the first Metro suicide of 2012. Later today, I heard from one of the Metro riders on that very Blue Line train that killed her. His account gives a chilling sense of what the suicide must be like for riders, not to mention the WMATA workers involved: "We all stood there on the platform in shock, looking at the train sitting there, thinking to ourselves, 'Someone is lying under that train, and there is nothing any of us can do about it.'"

26-year-old software sales consultant Ryan Battle hopped on the Blue Line train early this morning, the sun just beginning to dawn over Washington, D.C., on his way to work at Top Down Systems in Rockville, Maryland. It's a long commute, across multiple lines with a transfer at Metro Center, that a tragic incident made far longer today. Battle rode on the Blue Line's last railcar.

Battle told me he was impressed with how Metro handled the suicide. Several WMATA employees were on hand, he says, and did "an excellent job at controlling the scene and making sure everyone was safe." I saw this communication echoed in the transit agency's broader communications, as spokesperson Dan Stessel and others immediately issued a release, Twitter updates, and even changed WMATA.com's homepage to reflect the sudden suicide.

But I'll let Battle share what the experience was like for him. He gave me his account of what the sudden, abrupt stop on the Blue Line train was like, how riders reacted, and the scene on the Van Dorn Street platform, also captured in the photo he took above. Here's how this morning unfolded for Battle:

As we were pulling into the station at Van Dorn Street, the train jerked as it stopped short of the platform. We were all in the train looking around at each other, and something just did not feel right. The conductor spoke over the loudspeaker saying someone has jumped in front of the train. She was very calm for someone who had just witnessed this horrific act. There was silence in the car, as we all looked around thinking to ourselves, "Did this really just happen?" They shut down the Metro car, turned off the filtration system, then turned off the lights in the car.

Everyone then proceeded to text and call their bosses. A Metro employee from outside the train waves up to the front cars, and we pass through each train car until we are able to stand on the platform. Metro employees then proceeded to ask us to walk to the other side of the platform. The fire department arrived and starts asking the Metro employees which car did they think the person was under. We all stood there on the platform in shock, looking at the train sitting there, thinking to ourselves, "Someone is lying under that train, and there is nothing any of us can do about it."

It was too crazy on the platform after the event. People were more upset that they would be late to work than anything, but there was no pushing or shoving or yelling. It was just shocking that this happen this early in the morning this early in the year.

Battle ultimately arrived to work about 45 minutes late, he told me.

Despite the misfortune of the morning's death, Battle's account is reassuring in certain ways. His experiences suggested the situation was handled professionally, with minimal hysterics and confusion. Again, I imagine the train operator's experience and how that must have been for her, to strike a person on the tracks. How would that feel? The idea is haunting. Yet Battle told me that her voice remained calm as she communicated what was happening to the Blue Line train's riders. What an astounding, troubling set of moments that hopefully won't be repeated often throughout the coming 12 months.

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