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Blood on the Tracks

One hazard of riding the D.C. area Metro: People jump in front of the trains.

By 10.28.03

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VIRGINIA -- The psychology of suicide is a queer thing. People often clean things up before snuffing themselves. They write letters of apology, shrug off their shoes, leave clothes neatly folded in a pile. I'm told the single greatest factor that dissuades would-be jumpers is not the possibility of surviving a fall but the prospect of their remains being strewn about, all willy nilly.

So: I'm still trying to decide, several hours removed from the event, what could have compelled the man to half jump, half dive in front of the orange line Metro as the train was arriving at the East Falls Church station. It gummed up rail traffic for hours and the jumper may even have survived the encounter with the train, which was slowing down to stop at the station when it plowed into him.

It's not an academic question for me: I was heading into work in the lead car of the train, on the left hand side, staring out the front window when he jumped. I heard the yells ("Get back! Get back!") from the cockpit. I listened to the dull thud and the screeching of brakes, followed by the sobbing of the heavyset female driver. I sat there as a few Alpha male types in my car -- including one who claimed he was a stress management specialist -- tried to take charge to calm their mates and fellow passengers, but really to calm themselves.

After a few minutes of stunned disbelief, one Metro worker came down the inside of the train and manually opened doors so that passengers could get out. We exited onto the platform without any clear idea of where to go from there, and the barely audible PA system was not helpful.

Metro employees with florescent yellow and orange vests poured into the station; several of them tried to console the driver. Firemen entered via the escalator, backed people away the front of the train, and began to crawl around underneath to find the body.

I asked the point woman for the fire department if they needed witnesses and was told to go wait next to the driver. A nervous Metro employee -- a middle-aged man who was being pulled in several different directions at once -- asked a few questions to determine if I had, in fact, seen the man jump. Satisfied, he requested to see my ID and then ushered me down the escalator to fill out a statement. From the top of the rotating stairs, I saw a flashlight beam between the first and second cars, and heard a fireman yell that he'd found the body, and that the guy was alive, but stuck.

Waiting and jurisdiction shuffling commenced. I started filling out a report for the local station, on lime green paper, leaning over one of the turnstiles for a flat surface. Then a cop for the Metro Police arrived with a different, more official form, which catalogued, among other things, my phone number, date of birth, and Social Security number.

The officer brought me into a back room with a chair and flat table, asked for my identification again, and said that if I didn't mind he'd hold on to my driver's license while I filled out the report. I did mind but, under the circumstances, I bit my tongue and sat down to write.

My account was brief. I figured Metro Police would want to know (a) where I was when I saw the jumper, (b) if the driver had acted properly (yes), and (c) whether the man was pushed (emphatically no). Beyond that, they had my number. I waited for a few minutes for the officer to return, then decided to go looking for him.

The aforementioned Metro worker -- he of the green form -- hailed another Metro police officer, who determined that I had, in fact, given them enough information. He directed me back to the train platform to get my ID.

Shortly after I arrived at the top of the escalator, medics brought the jumper by on a stretcher. He was in his late forties/early fifties, white, at least six foot, and nearly bald. Or at least that's what I thought I could make out. His face was quite mashed and it's hard for me to judge height when people are horizontal and limp.

With the man taken to the hospital, things began to settle back to normal. On the other side of the police tape, I heard two Metro grunts planning to scrub the tracks and get things moving again. A video-cameraman showed up and a blonde newswoman followed not long after. As I departed on the next train for the office, they didn't appear to be in a hurry. For them, it was 30 seconds of filler -- a minute tops -- on Tuesday's nightly news.

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About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.