Death at McPherson Square Metro


Picking up from my tweet earlier: I boarded at Metro Center. Our Blue Line train pulled into McPherson Square, the next stop, around 1:15 at the typical slow station speed. But the braking sound was strange, like the usual brakes mixed with a higher scream and a lower shout. A few of us looked up, but there weren’t any yells when the braking ended. The guy in the cap at the door laughed to himself, and I felt the same way, like we thought we’d heard something before realizing we hadn’t.

We were both wrong. The train held with the doors closed and after a minute went into power-down mode — lights off, engines shifting low. Women standing in the middle of the car began talking loudly about how the train had hit somebody, and they began to move around the car and look out the windows. Another minute or two passed, and two kids/young men near me opened the rear door to see if they could get out that way. They looked outside, stayed inside and shut the door.

The women began to get a little upset, yelling some about pulling the emergency door handles or pressing the operator call button to get out of the car. One who walked by muttered about Friday the 13th, and another banged on the window when a Metro worker passed. He gestured for them to give him a minute. Two workers had put on their yellow emergency vests and passed our car a few times. About five minutes after we’d pulled into the station, one of them entered our car from the front and sent us off the train in that direction. This was my first time evacuating a Metro train, and I was surprised to see how close the bumpers were, just a half step between cars. We all filed up a couple cars at a normal pace to the train’s half-open front door.

I waited on the platform briefly. The crowds from the train weren’t too heavy, and everyone moved smoothly, like they were heading back to their offices from lunch. The other side of the platform was relatively empty. I moved to the gates area overlooking the platforms until the crowd there was told to move along. One yellow vest stood on top of the lights between the track beds and appeared to be looking under the middle of our train. Another Metro worker was climbing down to our tracks, and the electrified third rail appeared to be shut off.

I exited on the Vermont Avenue side, tweeting, where staffers were at the time turning people away downstairs but not upstairs. People rode the escalator down and then rode it back up. A white Metro police SUV arrived quickly, and the officer headed downstairs with an incident kit. The full force of the emergency response came two blocks away at the Franklin Square exit (pictured above): a fire truck, several ambulances, cop cars, and sirened red sedans. A fold-out yellow plastic wall blocked entrance but not exit, and the red-jacketed downtown ambassadors directed people to other Metro stops. The man selling flowers across the sidewalk from the escalators stayed in place. A passerby asked a firefighter how long it’d be, and the firefighter said it’d be too long.

Camera men and a woman began arriving about 1:45, shooting the sidewalk, the emergency vehicles and the unused stretcher carried to the surface and put back in the ambulance. D.C. Fire spokesman Alan Etter let the cameras know about the victim’s death shortly before 2.

The walk to Arlington took about 40 minutes, and I wondered along the way who the dead person was underneath our subway train.

20 thoughts on “Death at McPherson Square Metro”

  1. I was on the Orange Line Metro at McPherson on the other side of the tracks coming from Arlington. Two men got on our train when it stopped & were looking out the window at the tracks. They said that they saw a guy jump in front of the Metro Train & were clearly shaken up. Just then there was an announcement from our train operator that there was an emergency on the Blue/Orange lines, and to expect delays. I got so upset that I got off the train at Metro Center and proceeded to get on the Red Line going in the wrong direction. This was truly sad thinking about the man and his family.

  2. Marcia, Yvette, thanks for visiting and commenting. It’s sad story for sure. Have just seen the moments after, I can only imagine what the witnesses to the event itself are going through now. The train driver’s compartment was empty by the time I got out to the platform, and beyond the victim, that person may have it the worst this evening.

    For any others reading, if you’re looking for more coverage, DCist had the first links and photo this afternoon, and the Post’s Get There blog has been quick on the station’s reopening this evening. At this hour, WUSA has video from outside the station, including a clip of the Etter briefing I mentioned. The Washington City Paper and Washington Examiner both add a few details as well. WTTG has the Associated Press brief, as do WTOP, WJLA, The Washington Times, and NBC4.

  3. In Taipei, some of the stations have barriers and doors along the platform, and I know they have them also in the Paris metro system. Taipei also has installed a “track intrusion detection system” that can detect if someone is on the tracks. (Taipei) (Paris)

    In today’s incident, it sounds like the person jumped right before the train came, so not sure if a detection system would always help, but the platform doors would and having both would be very helpful.

    With platform doors, the trains would then always have to stop at the same spot on the platform, and there probably are other technical issues and budget issued, but there have been way too many incidents involving people struck by a train.

  4. Lynn, I’m very sorry to hear it. When you talk to your friend, for whatever it’s worth from someone random like me, please let him or her know my thoughts are with those closest. I’m sure the same goes for many others who were in the station.

  5. His name was Kurtland Johnson- My Uncle- My handsome wonderful uncle. And Marcia, I thank you for saying a prayer for my family. And Patrick what you said about beyond the victim, that person who saw my uncle allegedly jump onto the track will be devastated tonight. No – No – No. Your Wrong. Try his immediate family will be devastated tonight and forever more. Try choosing the correct words to blog because we do read. And since I live in Los Angeles, California and I got the news away from my family I am more devatated than ever. That was my beautiful uncle so stop blogging wrong and think about blogging with the compassion of my family in mind. I am Regina Johnson, Kurtland Johnson’s niece who loved him dearly and just spoke to him saying he wanted to visit me in LA this summer. So now how do you think I feel. I am at a loss of heart.

  6. Geez Lynn, I am really saddened to hear it hits so close to home. Suicide touches everyone, rips at their hearts and leaves a huge if-only question. Please do let the family know the community is supportive. Hugs…

  7. I was also on this train yesterday. I happened to be in the front car and didn’t see anything before we stopped although when we stopped several of us looked around as we thought we heard screamin – not sure if it was the victim or those who witnessed what transpired.

    I guess we were halfway in the station when we came to a complete stop. The lights went off and the driver came out looking visibly upset.

    He told us to hang on a minute, pried one of the doors halfway open and crawled out. At this point, people were running up to the train yelling that a guy was hit and probably dead.

    Some classless scumbag starts yelling to let him out and banging on the door, completely unconcerned with the fact that someone had probably just lost their life underneath our train.

    After maybe 3-4 minutes, they let us out of the first car – prob only 10 of us. It seemed like all the other cars’ doors were still shut and nobody knew what was going on.

    There were several women on the platform explaining that a guy had jumped out in front and they were understandly distraught. We tried to locate the guy but nobody could see or hear anything. Soon, fire fighters began to come in and they ushered us out of the station due to “an emergency”.

    The metro employee at the top of the escalators told us a guy jumped in front and killed himself.

    Very sad, rip.

  8. Regina, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve written you by e-mail, but if you happen to read here first, I apologize for my word choice in that comment. I meant to refer just to those around the scene but fell short of saying so. I’m sorry for that. My sincere thoughts and prayers are with your family.

    For others, if you’re wondering, yes this thread mentions the name of the deceased. Out of respect for the family and accuracy, I withheld publication overnight until Metro released the name today.

  9. Sympathy to the family and friends of the deceased, and also those who saw what happened — particularly the train driver, who would have been unable to do anything to prevent it.

  10. Kurtland Johnson obit from The Washington Post
    My sincere condolences to the family on this tragic loss. Thank you again Patrick for posting your thoughtful article when all this happened. Lynn

    KURTLAND DAVID JOHNSON On Friday, March 13, 2009, departed this life. Devoted husband of Yvette Thomas Johnson; beloved father of Kia; loving brother of Harold, Carlton and Diane. Also survived by many nieces, nephews, relatives and friends. Visitation Monday, March 23, 10 a.m. until time of funeral 11 a.m. at From the Heart Ministries, 4207 Norcross St. , Temple Hills, MD.

  11. Regina I was a Bus Operator that starting in the class with Kurt at Metro. Everyone treated him as their own uncle. I was only dissappointed because I thought he was tired becasue the week prior to his death he was sleep in the division. I tried to give everyone an encouraging word because things can be rough on the strongest of people. I lived in Baltimore and understood how things could be worse when your tired. I heard that that day that it was your uncle but I didn’t believe it was possible because he light the room up with a smile. It’s not everyday you see a brother with blue eyes. I don’t know if you will see this because I just came across this site, but Kurt is not forgotten over here.

  12. I was one of the passengers on that train. I had just picked up my race packet for the St. Patrick’s Day 8K and had boarded at Federal Triangle. I didn’t notice anything untoward until the lights in the car dimmed. Shortly after we evacuated the train, I was on my way up from the mezzanine when they started to close the gates. I was watching them and not looking where I was going, and I tripped on a seam in the floor and did a nose plant right by the escalator! (I did run the race on Sunday–carefully–and finished with a smile on my face!) The emergency personnel were wonderful. They did want me to go to the ambulance, but I told them I had to get home to the cats.

  13. Sorry the above comment was so long.

    My heart goes out to the family and friends of Mr. Johnson.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *