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Operator Cherished Her Son, Career

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Neighbors and friends of Jeanice McMillan share memories of meeting, raising children together and helping one other in times of need. McMillan was the operator of the Red Line Metro train that crashed into the back of another train on June 22. Metro Operator Would Have Done 'Anything in Her Power' to Prevent Crash, Friend Says Video by Tracy Woodward, Edited by Ashley Barnas/The Washington Post

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By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jeanice McMillan and her young son, Jordan, left their native Buffalo more than a decade ago, seeking a better life in the Washington area. The single mother dreamed of stable government work and one day sending Jordan to college.

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After nine years as a postal worker in Arlington County, McMillan decided to change careers in 2007, just as Jordan was on the cusp of graduating from high school. Although she enjoyed being a letter carrier, she wanted to join Metro as a bus driver, a career that would allow her to afford Jordan's education.

McMillan's friends and family members said she immediately fell in love with the job, joyously ferrying passengers around Arlington and Alexandria with an ever-present smile and a soothing, inquisitive voice. Shortly after Jordan enrolled as a freshman at Virginia Union University last fall, McMillan, 42, moved to operating Metro trains on the Red Line in December, according to Metro officials.

Friends and family said she thrived on the camaraderie of driving a Metro train.

"She really liked the train because she felt she was helping so many more people get to work," said younger brother Vernard McMillan, 40, of Upper Marlboro. "She really was proud of that. It got her really excited. She really did care for all her passengers."

Jeanice McMillan died Monday afternoon at the helm of her Red Line Metro train, which crashed into the back of another train that had stopped between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations during the evening rush, just barely an hour into her shift.

Officials have said that the crash could be the result of a mechanical malfunction, operator error or some combination. The initial investigation indicates that the train McMillan was operating was in automatic mode and that the brake had been activated. Investigators said they would examine McMillan's cellphone and text-messaging records. They also will look at her driver's work schedule and blood samples before determining a cause.

With so many questions remaining about the crash, those close to McMillan said they were just beginning to cope with the horror that has unfolded.

Vernard McMillan said he had a strong suspicion that something terrible had happened to his sister when he saw the crash on the news, and he immediately tried to get in touch with her. Officials contacted him seven hours later.

He said his sister never mentioned any safety concerns and also said she enjoyed operating the trains, though she had been doing it only a short time.

Friends and family gathered at Vernard McMillan's home yesterday, holding back tears as they recounted Jeanice's deep ambition and caring soul. They said she was always smiling and looking out for others.

It is that smile that co-workers said they will miss the most.


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