Paying Tribute to 'the Metro Hero' at Memorial for Train Operator

By Annie Gowen and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Metro train operator who died trying to stop her train from crashing into another was remembered as a hero yesterday during an emotional memorial service at her church in Southeast Washington.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. brought the Temple of Praise congregation to its feet when he said Jeanice McMillan, 42, "saved lives" in trying to apply the emergency brakes on her Red Line train before it slammed into another during Monday evening's rush hour. She would be honored "as the Metro hero," he said. Hundreds of mourners -- including more than 100 Metro employees, some in their blue uniforms -- gave Catoe a sustained ovation.

"When the investigation is completed, we will find she went beyond her job," Catoe said afterward. "I believe she saved lives. She was able to slow that train up before it crashed."

McMillan, a Springfield resident, had been operating Metro trains for only three months before the crash, which killed her and eight others and injured about 80. National Transportation Safety Board investigators are focusing on a train control system that should have prevented the crash.

Investigators performed a simulation Wednesday night in which test results suggest that the train McMillan operated might not have received information that another was stopped ahead on the rails north of the Fort Totten Metro station.

The steel rails show evidence that McMillan activated the emergency brakes before the crash.

"The city has lost a fantastic public servant," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said at the funeral. "Her title was conductor, but as this service has shown us, she was really a leader. That is how she will be remembered."

The service lasted nearly two hours and featured Scripture reading, gospel performances and testimonials from family and friends.

Temple of Praise Bishop Glen A. Staples also brought the crowd to cheers when he said in fiery tones: "You've got to be a different kind of person to look at death head-on and say, 'I'm going to save as many as I can.' We have a debt of gratitude for what she has done for the city."

An emotional moment came when McMillan's son Jordan, 19, talked about the sacrifices his mother made as a single parent to send him to Virginia Union University, where he just completed his freshman year.

"She was there for me for everything," he said. "If it wasn't for her, I don't know where I'd be."

Jordan said his mother hardly ever let him miss a day of school. "She was very strict on me," he said. "I'm going to miss her calling my name."

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