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Metro crash victims' families angry over lack of involvement on memorial

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; B01

Families of those killed in the Red Line train crash a year ago voiced surprise and exasperation Tuesday that Metro has not informed them about a memorial event it planned for the victims as the June 22 anniversary approaches.

"All of us are angry and disappointed," said Kenneth Hawkins, whose brother, Dennis, died in the crash that left nine dead and 80 injured. "I would have thought the interim general manager would have stepped up to the plate and embraced the families."

Hawkins and other family members only learned of a Metro remembrance service planned for June 22 at the Fort Totten Station when told about it by a reporter. Metro officials said that the families would be invited but that planning is still underway.

"We definitely will be extending an invitation," said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. "We are still firming that up." Farbstein said a "logistics meeting" on the event was planned for later Tuesday.

"When the plans are in place, the very first people we will invite will be family," she said. "At that time, we will share with them details of what we are planning and how we would like them to participate in the service."

Family members questioned why Metro did not ask well in advance for their input for the ceremony.

"I am angry," said Tawanda Brown, the mother of victim LaVonda "Nikki" King, 23. "The families need to be involved," she said, adding that what Metro is planning "may not be appropriate."

"It's unfortunate for them to think we can be forgotten," Brown said. "They've had 11 months to embrace us."

The crash, the deadliest in Metro's history, occurred when a six-car Red Line train slammed into a stationary train in front of it just north of the Fort Totten Station in Northeast Washington. The force of the crash vaulted the striking train atop the one it rammed.

The train operator, Jeanice McMillan, 42, and eight passengers died in the accident, which is under investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board. NTSB officials said in February that they hoped to complete their investigation before this month's anniversary, but the safety board announced last month that it was delaying a hearing into the causes of the crash until late July.

Relatives of the victims have complained that Metro has not done enough to help them deal with the ramifications of losing their loved ones, and many are participating in legal claims against Metro.

"I find it very odd; that is news to me," said Monica Cochran, sister of victim Veronica DuBose, 29, upon hearing of Metro's plans for a June 22 event. "You'd think they would give us at least enough time to prepare for that."

Carolyn Jenkins, DuBose's mother, said she was "very surprised that they are having something and haven't contacted me."

Metro plans to ask the board of directors on Thursday to approve the placement of a permanent bronze memorial plaque dedicated to the victims on a column inside the Fort Totten Station.

A proposed resolution on the board's agenda states that the plaque would "list the names of the deceased, and would also express appreciation to the first responders." The board recognizes that family members, survivors and residents of Washington "were all gravely affected by the tragic accident," it said.

"It's a nice gesture; it doesn't bring my sister back," Cochran said. In recent months, Cochran and her family have been planning their own memorial for the evening of June 22 on the bridge above the crash site, in which they plan to release doves symbolizing the victims.

Cochran said Tuesday that she hopes that relatives of several victims will participate in the event. Other victims include Ana Fernandez, 40; Mary "Mandy" Doolittle, 59; Ann Wherley, 62; Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr., 62; and Cameron Williams, 37.

On Monday, attorneys representing some of the victims in a claim against Metro appeared in court with Metro attorneys. When asked about any memorial honoring the victims, the Metro attorneys "had no clue what was being done," Hawkins said.

"It is 15 days from the one-year anniversary of the accident, and it is very unfortunate that no official from Metro, Congresswoman Norton, Mayor Fenty, the City Council or even the local media have reached out to the families of the Metro disaster," he said in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

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