Metro Crash Survivor Says His Long Reliance on Prayer Saw Him Through

Two Red Line Metrorail trains crashed June 22, 2009 between the Fort Totten and Takoma Park stations, killing nine, including one train operator.
By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 4, 2009

At 6 feet tall and 240 pounds of muscle, Daryl Smith Jr. cuts an imposing figure. It was that brawny build many passengers recalled after last week's deadly Metro train crash.

Survivors from the first car of the colliding train -- the one that ended up half-demolished -- recalled a big man who smashed his way through the backdoor and helped fellow passengers escape.

As investigators have looked for clues to the crash's cause, Smith, who is 19, has been searching his memory and pondering his faith, trying to find meaning in the wreckage.

Smith, who comes from a deeply religious family, said he felt God's presence amid the crash. He doesn't understand why the crash happened, but he said that he believes God intended for him to be there and that prayer helped him survive.

"As a kid, I was taught that if you needed something, you ask God for it," he said in an interview a few days after the crash. "That's what got me through this thing -- prayer. I really believe that."

Of the crash, Smith said what he remembered was the sound. One moment, he was sitting with his girlfriend, cracking jokes to make her laugh. The next, there was a boom. When it was over, he was lying on a pile of seats, his right foot cut and pinned by debris.

It was not the first near-death experience for Smith. He has been in two major auto accidents since childhood. When he was 8, a car he was in flipped over. And last year, he was hit head-on in a collision. Both incidents left him feeling powerless. Ever since the car crashes, he has thought about how he would react if something happened again. He has run through scenarios and feared he would turn out to be the type of person who folds under pressure, gets panicked and confused.

In the train last week, Smith freed himself from the wreckage. He heard the Lord's Prayer being recited in the car and joined in. As he did, he scanned the scene.

His girlfriend's left foot was severely injured, the skin peeled back so that there was blood and flesh where once a tattoo had been.

Smith used his cellphone to try to call his grandmother, a "prayer warrior" at their church, Brookland Union Baptist, who is known to mobilize dozens of congregants to pray during emergencies. When he couldn't reach her, he tried his mother to ask her to start the prayers.

Smoke and dust filled the car. The doors were jammed. Smith looked at his girlfriend and her bleeding leg and thought, "She needs to get out of here now."

He took off his polo shirt, wrapped it around his arm and tried smashing the door's window. Other passengers watched. With his shirt off, huge tattoos on his arms were visible. He got them last year after surviving the head-on collision. A drunk driver in the wrong lane slammed into Smith's car at 85 mph. After walking away from the accident largely uninjured, Smith got the word "BLESSED" tattooed on his forearm. A few weeks later, he had someone add on his shoulder words from the book of Isaiah: "No weapon formed against you shall prosper." And he had the word "faith" written across his left wrist.

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