Injured or Dying, Metro Crash Victims Tried to Comfort Each Other

Experts suspect failure of signal system or operator error in yesterday's deadly Red Line collision. NTSB investigators are on scene today gathering more evidence. Video by Anna Uhls/The Washington Post, photos by AP
By William Wan and Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lying in Howard University Hospital's intensive care unit yesterday, the teenage girl with the whisper-soft voice said she didn't remember much about the Metro crash. But the thing Lanice Beasley kept recalling was the older woman who talked to her even as she was dying beside her on the ground next to the train tracks.

The woman told Lanice, "I'm dying, I'm dying," and Lanice, 14, tried to convince her that she wasn't, even though she could see where falling debris had split the woman's chest wide open. Lanice was severely injured herself -- her legs cut so deeply that tendons were severed and the flesh peeled back. She had been riding in the train that rear-ended the other. Upon impact, as the car in front of hers smashed upward, glass and metal debris hurtled down onto her and others.

Lanice did not know how she came to rest on the ground beside the track -- whether she had been ejected out the window or whether other passengers had pulled her out. But she said she somehow was lying on the ground, unable to move, next to the dying woman. Soon, Lanice started worrying about dying, too, and the woman tried to comfort her. The woman got out her cellphone and called someone, then gave it to Lanice.

Standing next to her hospital bed yesterday, Lanice's mother, Ernice Beasley, recounted the call. All she heard Lanice say was, "Mommy, I'm hurt." Then the line went dead. With those words, Lanice sent her mother on a frantic quest to find her. It would take hours and calls to every hospital in the region before Ernice Beasley found her youngest daughter.

Yesterday, in a scene that played out across Washington, the Beasleys and other families gathered at their loved ones' hospitals, praying for their recovery and trying to piece together what had happened.

At Washington Hospital Center, seven patients from the crash were treated, and four were released yesterday morning. One patient was in critical condition, and two were in fair condition, officials said. George Washington University Hospital had three patients, all listed in good condition, with two scheduled to be discharged last evening.

Washington Adventist Hospital treated five patients for minor injuries Monday evening, and all were released.

At Howard University Hospital, four patients were treated: Lanice; a 51-year old woman who was released yesterday; a 25-year-old D.C. woman who was 30 weeks pregnant and was admitted for observation; and a 20-year-old man, Jamie Jiao.

Speaking outside the hospital late Monday night, still dressed in clothes streaked with soot from the accident, Jiao, a University of Virginia student, recounted being knocked out by the impact. He woke up to find that his glasses and shoes had been knocked off. His lower back ached. He was no longer in his seat, and he felt a hard, semi-smooth surface under him. At first, Jiao said, he thought that the train had flipped and that he was on the ceiling.

"I looked more closely, and our train was on top of the other train, and I was sitting on the roof of the train in front of us," he said. Ahead of him, he saw a person who wasn't moving. And beyond that person, nothing.

"It was strange, because [before the crash] I was sitting in the third row, and there were people in front of me," Jiao said. After the crash, "everyone else was just gone."

Jiao crawled out of the split-open rail car, fearing that it might come crashing down. He heard frantic passengers making 911 calls from their cellphones. "People behind me were trapped and calling for help."

For some who were on the train, help did not arrive in time.

Lanice said she watched the woman beside her helplessly. "We were by a dumpster on the ground. I saw her die. She died right there," she said in a small voice as she drifted in and out of consciousness.

Doctors have stabilized Lanice, stapling a wound in the back of her head and treating a long gash on her forehead. More surgery is needed to fix her leg, but it is her mind that worries her mother.

"It's the post-traumatic stuff, what she saw," Ernice Beasley said. "They have some psychologists who are going to talk to her and a whole team trying to put her back together, but it's going to be a long process. She's my youngest. I just want my baby back."

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