Train-crash victim Victor Robinson recovers after seizure may have led to fall

Victor Robinson, a 41-year-old man with epilepsy, needed to get his watch fixed.

He called his mother the afternoon of Aug. 1 and told her he had canceled his scheduled ride with Metro’s door-to-door service, MetroAccess. Robinson, who has suffered seizures since he was a baby, liked the freedom of not being tethered to a reservation.

After leaving his job at a nonprofit organization for the day, he planned to stop by a jewelry repair shop, catch a Red Line train at the Friendship Heights station and then head home to Petworth, said Ondina Robinson, 75.

Three hours later, she received a call from Suburban Hospital, in Bethesda. Her son had been in an accident and had head and foot injuries. Could she come to the hospital soon?

Robinson had become the eighth passenger this year struck by a Metro train, the transit authority said. That’s more than the seven who were struck in all of last year, according to Metro’s records. Twelve riders were hit by trains in 2009, including a single accident in which a blind Rockville man tumbled from the platform at Gallery Place.


Sherman Robinson, Victor’s father, holds the Superman ring and the medical ID bracelet identifying his son as epileptic that Victor wore daily. (Dana Hedgpeth/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“By all indications, this appears to be an unfortunate accident,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. Officially, the Robinson case was still under investigation, he said.

Robinson’s family thinks he might have had a severe seizure while standing on the platform at Friendship Heights and then fell onto the tracks.

“I was shocked,” said his father, Sherman Robinson. “I was fearful for the present and the future. My fear was, ‘Will he recover, and what will become of his quality of life?’ ”

A video from the station shows that “while on the track,” Robinson was in “distress and made several attempts to recover from the fall but was unsuccessful,” Stessel said. The train operator told Metro investigators that she “activated the mushroom,” a button on the console in the operator’s cab that applies the emergency brake, but the train could not stop in time, he said.

Robinson was conscious when first responders arrived, but his right foot had been severed, and he was suffering bleeding in the brain, according to a doctors’ report.

He was found with two items he often wears: a silver “Superman” ring and his medical ID bracelet.

Robinson underwent surgery to amputate part of his right leg, his family said. Doctors also repaired his broken right wrist. On Wednesday, he was listed in critical but stable condition, his family said.


Victor Robinson, 41, of Petworth. Robinson was pulled from underneath the third car of a Metro train Aug. 1 at the Friendship Heights station on his way home from work. His family believes he suffered an epileptic seizure on the tracks. ( Courtesy of the Robinson Family/COURTESY OF THE ROBINSON FAMILY)

His family has stayed by his bedside for up to six hours a day. They call his name, pray with him and tell jokes in hopes he’ll hear them in the depths of his medically induced coma.

“We ask him, ‘Victor, do you want a Big Mac?’ ” said his twin sister, Victoria Dancy of Upper Marlboro.

Last Wednesday, he responded to commands from doctors to move his fingers and open his eyes. The next day, he opened his eyes slightly and looked toward his mother as she called his name.

“That’s always encouraging for us,” Dancy said. “It’s an indication that he’s still here with us.”

Her own superhero

Robinson, an avid collector of toy cars, key chains, puzzles, T-shirts, baseball hats and trains, has regularly participated in the Special Olympics since middle school, his family said. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in the District and works for Quality Trust for Individuals With Disabilities as an advocacy outreach specialist.

He met Thelma Greene, his fiancee, through a jobs training program, and the two have talked about possibly getting married next Valentine’s Day, she said.

Greene, who has cerebral palsy and lives in Shaw, hasn’t visited the hospital. She said she thinks it would be too hard to see him in ICU with tubes and bandages. She’s relied on reports from his family.

She said she plans to make a tape for his family to play to remind him of their long-running joke.

“I’m going to tell him Lois Lane loves him, and she wants Superman to hurry up and get better,” said Greene, 51. “Come back so he can hurry up and rescue her.”

Born about seven minutes after his twin, Robinson first started having seizures when he was 8 months old, his mother said. Even with medication, his seizures are unpredictable, she said.

He sometimes has them in the morning as he is getting ready for work, his mother said. “I’d tell him, ‘Victor, go lie down,’ ” she recalled. “He’d say, ‘No, no. I have to go. I have to get to work.’ ”

Dancy said Robinson’s attitude about his conditionhas always been, “ ‘Yeah, I have epilepsy, but I don’t let it stop me from doing what I need to do and want to do.’ ”

In recent months, Robinson had switched from taking MetroAccess daily to get to his job to using buses and trains some days because, in part, he liked the independence, his family said.

He also had become concerned that recent increases in MetroAccess fares had pushed the cost of his daily rides to work to as much as $14. It costs Metro about $40 to provide a MetroAccess ride through a contractor. The transit agency charges MetroAccess riders a maximum of $7 each way.

“He didn’t believe the cost should go up for himself and others like him given that many disabled people are on a fixed income, and riding MetroAccess is quite a costly trip,” Dancy said.

His family said they expect Robinson to view the prosthetic leg doctors say he needs as “no big deal.”

A family’s perseverance

Robinson’s relatives said their strong faith in God has helped sustain them — just as it did in 1994, when his eldest sister died instantly in a car accident.

“You go to the hospital to see how he’s doing, to encourage him by whatever means we can,” his father said. “Just our presence at the hospital is so connecting. We’re together.”

Robinson’s mother said he was looking forward to going on a Potomac River dinner cruise last Sunday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the nonprofit group where he worked.

Robinson had made the reservation just hours before the accident.

On Sunday, his parents said, a MetroAccess vehicle showed up — promptly at 4:30 p.m.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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