D.C. Family Navigates Challenges to ID Metro Crash Victim, Tie Up Her Affairs

Two Red Line Metrorail trains crashed June 22, 2009 between the Fort Totten and Takoma Park stations, killing nine, including one train operator.
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009

YaVonne and Erwin DuBose stepped outside the D.C. medical examiner's office yesterday to take in the fresh heat. They needed a reprieve. They had just seen a photograph of their 29-year-old daughter, Veronica DuBose, one of nine people killed in this week's Metro train crash, her face yellowed, bruised and swollen.

Asked to identify her body, they pinpointed the mole on her lip and her finely arched eyebrows. Their daughter's life was now boiled down to a bureaucratic moniker -- Case No. 09-01458 -- on a Proof of Death certificate.

"Unbelievable to see that," said Erwin, 56, a procurement specialist at the National Institutes of Health, standing on the morgue's steps. "It didn't even look like her. I asked if she got burned, but they didn't know. I can't remember. Was there a fire on the train?"

YaVonne, a city psychiatric social worker, embraced her time at the morgue: a single moment in a confusing grieving process and in her stepdaughter's ambitious life to become a highly trained nurse. "All of this is happening. You take one step. Another. This is like a story. It all goes in," YaVonne, 52, said. "We only go to the medical examiner's office once -- we have to capitalize. Nothing stands alone. We're also going to have a funeral, a celebration of her life."

Two days after the deadliest crash in Metro's 33-year history, relatives of those killed were quietly wending their way through a puzzling and strangely mundane game of logistics. In the hours after learning that their daughter was one of the dead, DuBose family members confronted another painful truth: that no one was going to escort them through all the government hurdles and mind-numbing matters.

Such as: How late is the morgue open? Should Veronica's belongings be picked up at their police station before or after the trip to the morgue? Can her apartment be cleaned out before July so nobody has to pay next month's rent and her deposit can be returned?

The journey began Tuesday night at YaVonne and Erwin's home on Farragut Place NW. After detectives stopped by to deliver the devastating news, the couple began making plans to visit the D.C. medical examiner's office and their police station to collect Veronica's belongings.

But they couldn't find their son, Erwin II, 15, a high school sophomore, who was out in the neighborhood, presumably with friends. So the couple waited on their porch, decorated with white plastic chairs and wooden wind chimes, and talked with neighbors.

They reminisced about Veronica shopping for toys for her children, Raja, 8, and 15-month-old Ava, on Sunday and her grilling in the back yard for Father's Day. In the house, where several pieces of artwork inscribed with proverbs hang on the wall, was Veronica's Hallmark card, signed with her nickname: "When I find a husband I hope he's like you. You are MY HERO and I LOVE YOU! With Love, Ronnie."

After doing an interview with WRC (Channel 4) on the front stoop, Sabrina Christmas, an aunt, arrived. "You're not going to the morgue tonight, are you?" she asked.

"Yeah," Erwin said, asking her to stay at the home while they would be gone.

But YaVonne called the morgue and learned that it was closed. "What time is it going to be open?" she asked on her cellphone. "At 8? I'm going to be there like it's my job. She doesn't need to be there any longer than she has to."

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