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

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

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.

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"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."

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