Metro Crash: Riders Offer One Another Tourniquets, Tenderness

Witnesses describe the chaos that ensued immediately after one Metro train slammed into another. With at least 6 killed, local officials are calling it the deadliest accident in the system's history. Video by AP
By Rosalind S. Helderman and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In the first car of the six-car Red Line train, on a sunny-day evening commute, passengers heard a message familiar to any Metrorail rider: The conductor said they were holding for a moment -- there was a train ahead.

The train started moving again, picking up to moderate speed.

Then, without even the squeal of brakes as a warning, there was a crash and the feeling of being lifted up as the train hit one that was stopped.

In the moments after the crash, passengers made tourniquets out of T-shirts, struggled to pull debris off others and sought to calm the hysterical and the gravely wounded. Inside the worst-hit car, waiting on ambulances and the "jaws of life," an Anglican priest led a group in the Lord's Prayer. On the ground below, a civilian Pentagon employee told a wounded girl that he wouldn't accept her last wish, that she was going to live.

Inside the car, there was dust and broken glass and blood. Seats had been ripped from the floor and thrown around: One man was trapped between two of them, with a leg that appeared broken. A woman was screaming, invisible, buried beneath a pile of seats.

But the most incredible thing was the floor itself. It was gone, peeled away. Passengers could look down and see the grooved metal roof of another Metro train.

"The front of the train just opened up," said Marcie Bacchus, 30, who was among a handful of passengers in the car at the center of the deadliest accident in Metro's 33-year history.

The crash happened about 5 p.m. on an aboveground stretch of track that runs through neighborhoods between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations. Authorities said one Red Line train rear-ended another, hitting with such force that its first car was thrown on top of the other train.

Brianna Milstead, 17, a high school student from Waldorf, was in that car. She could see out the front window, and she saw the other train getting closer, but it was too late to react.

"It happened so quick," Milstead said, looking at her ash-covered hands. "The floor smushed up. It was lifted up. I saw the debris flying toward me. I was choking on the smoke."

Dave Bottoms, 39, had just left his job as an Army chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Anglican priest was in the back of the front car that slammed into the stopped train. When he saw the train buckling, it looked just like it would in the movies, he said.

"It felt like it was going in slow motion," he said. "I started praying."

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