Metro crash anniversary: Series of events planned to honor victims
It was a deeply emotional ceremony punctuated by the tolling of a bell for the nine people who died in the Metro crash. Later at night, families followed the official ceremony with their own vigil at the bridge overlooking the site of the 2009 crash.
They gathered a short distance from where their loved ones died and sought comfort in remembrance and the shared loss.
“We're all together and we share the same pain,” said Evelyn Fernandez, whose daugher Ana was killed in the June 22, 2009, crash.
In the two years since then, Carolyn Jenkins has grieved and guided the children of her late daughter, Veronica DeBose. “My granddaughter, my grandson, they need help, I'm doing the best I can but I need help,” Jenkins said.
Earlier in the day, family members of all victims attended the ceremony marking the two-year anniversary of the Metro Red Line crash, white rose in hand, then followed a color guard to lay a wreath in front of a memorial plaque inside the Fort Totten Metro station.
There were tears and hugs and two young boys found their mother’s name on the list of the lost.
Tawanda Brown lost her daughter Nikki King in the crash. Now she cares for her grandsons Andre and Emmanuel. She also hasn’t forgiven Metro and said so during the ceremony.
“They only seem to acknowledge this tragedy once a year,” she said. “We have to deal with it every day.”
Along with Caroline Jenkins, she is demanding that the Fort Totten plaque be moved to the bridge right at the crash site north of the station.
The women’s plea and the raw emotion they shared on the podium apparently made an impression on D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who pledged to get the plaque on the bridge.
“We are going to make that happen so that people remember the lives of those who perished in that accident,” he said.
At the vigil, some families say they want to remind the public of what they believe is Metro's responsibility. “Many of them were the bread winners for these families and two years later the loss is very fresh and very difficult,” said David Haynes, an attorney for some of the families. A lawsuit filed by some of the families could take until 2012 to resolve.
Metro making improvements
The National Transit Safety Board determined in a report issued last summer that the crash occurred because of a problem with Metro's signaling system, which stopped detecting the presence of a stopped train and therefore failed to automatically slow an approaching train.
Over the past 12 months, Metro says it’s taken more than 100 different actions to improve safety, from fixing fauly tracks to installing rollback protection in most of its trains and pouring $148 million to rehabilitate and replace escalators.
But Metro still hasn’t replaced the oldest rail cars in the fleet – that won’t happen until the end of 2013.
And just last week, Metro’s general manager admitted that they are trying to “dig our way out of a hole. Years of equipment and infrastructure neglect have taken their toll.”
One family's loss
The day was very emotional for many families, including the relatives of Ana Fernandez, who was killed in the crash. The 40-year-old immigrant from El Salvador who was a single parent of six children. She struggled to make a living for her family while working as a cleaning woman.
To honor her life and all she did for her children, her children returned to her gravesite.
“She always said that she wanted her kids to be somebody in life and she wanted us to be together through thick and thin,” said her daughter Evelyn.