Subway Death

Dear Readers — It is with terrible sadness I report the death of a woman at about 3:45 this afternoon on the New York subway…at the station my sons use to come home from school.  At that very time. My younger son, the famous subway rider, got there just as the cops were sending people out. His friend darted down to see the aftermath.  Apparently the woman had dropped her pocketbook, jumped down to get it, and got smashed by a train. The kid told my son: Don’t look.

Aside from sorrow, I know this tragedy will re-invigorate some people who believe that young people should never take the subway unsupervised. All I can say is, there are an average of 5.2 million people who ride the subway daily, bringing the grand total to 1.563 billion rides a year. Today’s story is so shocking because it is (thank God) so rare.

Our whole family is shaken by the story, and the mental image. And we’ll be on the trains again tomorrow. — Lenore

29 Responses

  1. That poor woman. I don’t know that I have anything really useful to say, but this was not an unavoidable death. In a competition between a human and a train, the train is going to win. Recognizing that is not so much a function of age, but of rationality and impulse control.

  2. Such a tragedy…

  3. I’m sorry to hear this, too. How sad and tragic.

    Good for you and your family, Lenore.

  4. Whenever my daughter asks about a tragegy in the news, I take the opportunity to remind her that tobacco smoking, with 400,000 avoidable deaths in the U.S. each year — most of them unimaginably painful and lengthy — is far worse than accidents, murders, disease, suicides, and illegal drugs combined.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear this. So tragic. I’m glad your boy is safe. I hope he’s not too traumatized.

  6. So sad to hear this news, Lenore. I can’t imagine how the woman’s family feels. It’s just heartbreaking. I hope your son isn’t too shaken up, and that at the very least this tragedy will serve as a safety reminder, helping prevent any other terrible accidents from happening.

  7. James: The scary thing is that many teens and twentysomethings aren’t quitting smoking because they’ve been led to believe that the 5-10 pounds most people gain after quitting is at least as great a health risk as smoking (that’s about as far from being correct as you can get). Chalk up another one for the fearmongers.

    Seriously, “quit smoking and don’t worry about the weight gain” is a good harm-reduction strategy. Sure, it’s not as “healthy” as “quit and obsess to make sure you don’t gain.” But it will give 95% or more of the benefit. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

  8. I don’t believe this will invigorate people on youth not being alone on transit systems. This woman was the one who died and was 43. Sad as it is, I don’t see how this could link up to anything regarding young people not taking the train.

    This story is definitely sad, and I’m sorry that your son saw the aftermath. I saw a body when I was about 12 and it is still with me – though nothing as gruesome as this.

    If anything, this should push the transit authority to remind people that if something falls on the tracks – call the authorities in the building to get it! Just a couple weeks ago I called the cops because, driving down the freeway, there was a stove-sized box and a man waiting on the edge of the highway to rush out to get it… I figured it’d be better for the cops to get the box, than have a smashed man.

  9. That really is sad — and I hope your son and his friend will not be traumatized!

    So long,
    Corinna

  10. A horrible incident. I cant even begin to fathom the terror the poor lady must have felt in her last moments, and the feeling of helplessness of those on the platform. But, such is life. It comes to an end, sometimes in a premature and violent way.

    Things like this has happened before, and will happen again. Just a few of weeks ago something very similar happened on a subway station here in Oslo (Norway).

    Still, I would not think twice before letting my son, who’s now 8 months old, ride the subway by himself when he turns seven or eight. He will need to learn how to cope with life. Both the skills necessary to get through the day in a safe manner, but also how cope with the eternal fact that bad things may happen to good people. This, he will not learn wrapped in bubble wrap, only through practice, responsibility and trust.

    Your son has probably got a bit of thinking to do in the coming time, but he’ll be ok. And I think that will partly be your “fault”, because of what seems to be you letting him be a subject in his own life, and not a mere possession that is to be locked down in a display case.

  11. The poor lady. Her family will be so devastated. My deepest sympathy goes to them.

    I agree this is no reason to stop kids from learning to use public transport.

  12. Terrible. but this has nothing to do with how safe the trains are for kids. No one assulted this women. She, sadly, did not think about what she was doing and put herself in harms way. Unfortunatly, she paid the ultimate price. The trains are jsut as safe today as they were last week.

  13. OH, how horrible. This for sure gets an “oy gevalt”.

  14. The earliest news report I heard about this had reported that it was a much younger rider on her way home from school, and that there had been horseplay on the platform involved. That such a report proliferated before the truth makes the issue of young people riding the trains alone much more relevant, as people would then use the fictitious story as a rationalization for saying that kids shouldn’t ride the subways alone.

    This does, however, bring up an important lesson that we should all remember before riding the trains, and that includes adults and children: Nothing in your bag is valuable enough to risk your life. That means taking the time to get an MTA worker if your bag falls on the tracks, and letting go if your bag gets stuck in a train door while you’re outside the train. If you honestly believe that the contents of your bag are more valuable than your life, you should probably re-evaluate things…

  15. Joe and JMP are correct. The odds of getting an MTA employee nowadays are slim, but the truth is that whatever you dropped, it can be replaced. And anyway, do you really need all that “stuff”? No, no you do not – not more than you need your life.

  16. Uly and JMP, it’s probably more a matter of instinct. You think, “I need my purse,” not, “Hm, do I need my purse more, or my life? My purse!”

    But it is good to think these things through in advance — it can change that kind of instinctual thinking for the better.

  17. Pentamom, I take the trains all the time. I’ve lived in NYC all my life. I would never – NEVER – consider going down onto the tracks to get a purse. Not if it had a winning lotto ticket in it. Maybe if, like, my kid fell down there.

    Every year there’s one or two of these stories, and every year all I can think is… well, it’s very uncharitable, so I won’t repeat it. I don’t understand how anybody’s “instinct” would lead them to do something so… well, anyway, it’s one of those things you shouldn’t be doing, out of basic common sense. Same thing goes if you get mugged, or if there’s random giant ravening lions outside the door.

    Mind, I’d love to have a system like in Tokyo where the tracks are isolated from the platform with doors. You can’t drop stuff in the tracks, you can’t be shoved in front of the train and – best part! – it’s easier to aircondition the platform so you don’t die of heat stroke every August.

  18. Last year I was part of a film crew filming some restricted areas of the NYC subway system. Security to these places was so tight during WWII that trespassers would have been shot if they got down there. This private tour included the power plant 10 stories below Grand Central Station and Franklin Roosevelt’s private railroad car. We knew enough to be careful where we stepped, not from an approaching train, but from the 3rd rail.

  19. Uly, you’re right — something that requires the effort of going down on the tracks is hard to understand. That actually takes a moment to decide on and do. I was thinking more of the scenario of how you react if the door closes on your bag, or something.

  20. @JMP I wonder where that story came from. Even the authorities were talking about viewing the security tapes and figuring out it was nothing more than a lapse in common sense. 😦

  21. That seems like the brand of stupidity that only an adult would exhibit… most kids feel that following the rules is VERY IMPORTANT and would be more likely to ask an adult for help. Once we grow up, it seems that we are more likely to feel that “rules are for OTHER people”, and that policemen/ transit workers etc aren’t worth asking for help (even though that’s what they’re there for).

  22. Clearly, age is not a factor in subway riding. Just common sense.

  23. I don’t understand why commenters are saying “poor lady”. The only way her bag could have even possibly dropped onto the tracks was either if someone threw it(which doesn’t seem the case) or she was standing/walking where she wasn’t supposed to. Most people who lose their stuff or fall in are those standing too close to the edge in the first place. The train comes when it comes, stop looking for it. This was her own fault 100%.

    And all for gym clothes and a cell phone. Should have paid that $5 bucks extra for phone insurance instead of jumping onto tracks.

  24. Well, you know Lavender, it wasn’t her brightest choice ever, no, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel sympathy for her family over the fact that she *died* doing this. Being struck by a train doesn’t strike me (no pun) as a fun way to die, anyway.

  25. Uly: I think the Tokyo system was devised because the Japanese used to have a problem with people jumping off the platform (intentionally) to place themselves in front of an oncoming train. But then again, my only sources are from pop culture.

  26. That may be. At any rate, I know we don’t have one because it’s a pain to retrofit 100-year-old train systems. I want my air conditioning.

  27. It’s a horrible nightmare image. I’m originaly from Toronto, and was living there in 1995 when there was a collision that killed 3 people.

    As horrible as these images are, even the most cursory reviewing of the relative safety of different transit modes shows that subway travel is several orders of magnitude SAFER than the most obvious substitute, car travel. Per passenger, or per passenger-kilometre (or passenger-mile for you anachronistic yanks) subway is by far the safest way to travel.

    And speaking as someone who as a kid often jumped down onto the tracks to run from platform to platform, or on dares or whatever, (stupid, I know), it would have been quite easy for this woman to look down the tracks to see if a train was about to arrive before hopping down to get her purse.

  28. So miserable.

  29. I’m so sorry to hear this. So tragic. I’m glad your boy is safe. I hope he’s not too traumatized.

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