Metro escalator inspections; Assailant bitten; Man charged with grand larceny; Repairs close bridge

Friday, November 5, 2010; 9:51 PM

Metro to inspect all 588 escalators

Metro has decided to launch a systemwide inspection of the hundreds of brakes on its escalators Thursday night as a precaution after the discovery of two faulty brakes within less than a week - one that caused serious rider injuries.

Metro Assistant General Manager Dave Kubicek made the decision Thursday.

"In light of recent incidents, he decided that a proactive precautionary measure would be in the best interest of safety, keeping in mind we have a strong safety culture that we are growing here," said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

Metro employees will carry out the brake inspections on all of the rail system's 588 escalators, said Metro spokesman Reggie Woodruff.

The inspection comes after an escalator malfunction at L'Enfant Plaza Station last weekend in which a brake failed and the metal staircase suddenly accelerated for about 18 seconds, sending a pile of people sprawling at the bottom. Six people were injured in the incident, which occurred during the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert rally at the Mall.

A preliminary investigation blamed the incident on an oily brake pad and the heavy passenger load, Metro said. The transit agency experienced record ridership last Saturday.

On Friday, Metro discovered a faulty brake at Gallery Place-Chinatown Station after a news report of an escalator problem prompted an inspection of all the escalators in that station. Both of those escalators remained shut down for repairs.

The inspections will include brakes and brake pads and are expected to take about a week.

"All other work will be delayed temporarily until the brakes are inspected," Woodruff said.

A consulting firm, Vertical Transportation Excellence, recently conducted an assessment of Metro's escalator and elevator maintenance problems and found that Metro was not following its own maintenance standards. The report identified immediate problems, including failure to clean escalator switches, debris and water in and around the conveyances, and a shortage of supervisors.

Vertical Transportation Excellence is conducting an independent investigation of the breakdown at L'Enfant. The company is also supposed to conduct a review next year of how Metro has followed up on its recommendations.

- Ann Scott Tyson

Police seek assailant bitten during assault

Montgomery County police have released surveillance photos of a man they say dragged a woman into the woods in Aspen Hill and sexually assaulted her - until she halted the attack with a bite.

The suspect received a "severe laceration" during the assault last week, said Cpl. Dan Friz, a police spokesman.

The suspect remains at large. Police released photos Wednesday hoping someone will recognize him.

The case goes back to Oct. 26, just after 11 p.m., when officers were called to the area of Connecticut Avenue and Independence Street. The 30-year-old victim told police that she was able to get away after fending off the attacker by biting him on the penis.

Police described the suspect as a Hispanic male with a thin build, 20 to 25 years old, 5-foot-6, with short black hair and a clean-shaven face. He was last seen wearing a black T-shirt and black pants.

Time stamps on the surveillance images show they were captured about 20 minutes prior to the attack, Friz said.

Police ask anyone with information to call 240-773-5070. Those who want to remain anonymous, or be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000, should call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 866-411-TIPS (8477).

- Dan Morse

Police charge man with grand larceny

A man who Fairfax County police say lead them on a strange chase Thursday afternoon, which included temporarily commandeering a police car and then being shot by a Fairfax officer, was identified Friday as Joseph L. Michel, 50. He was charged with grand larceny - but not of the police car.

Police said they encountered Michel sitting in a stolen Mercedes 500 SL in the Falls Church area about 4:35 p.m., and that he had a brief altercation with an officer, then ran off. A backup officer drove up and joined the foot chase, but Michel allegedly doubled back, hopped in the backup officer's car and drove off.

Officers pursued the stolen police car through the Falls Church neighborhoods, but the suspect allegedly wound his way back to the stolen Mercedes. Police said he abandoned the cruiser, jumped back in the Mercedes and drove off again.

On Graham Road near Oakland Avenue, one officer placed "stop sticks" across the road to try to puncture the Mercedes's tires and stop the pursuit. But police said Michel drove around the stop sticks and toward an officer, who apparently fired several times into the Mercedes and struck Michel.

The suspect was not seriously wounded and allegedly kept driving down Graham Road. But as he turned on to Route 50, in front of the Loehmann's Plaza shopping center, he pulled over and surrendered, police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said. He was hospitalized with wounds that were not life-threatening.

Caldwell said Michel was charged with grand larceny for the theft of the Mercedes.

Caldwell declined to say how many times Michel was shot or whether he was armed.

- Tom Jackman

Roosevelt Bridge lane to close for fixes

The D.C. Department of Transportation will do some emergency repairs on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Workers will replace 12 damaged concrete lane-divider barriers. This is the mobile barrier that is shifted daily to provide an additional travel lane during rush hours.

To clear a work zone Saturday, the outbound left lane will be closed.

- Robert Thomson

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