Metro crash victims' families still struggling with pain, anger
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Each night, Carolyn Jenkins and her 2-year-old granddaughter, Ava, say their prayers beside the bed they share in a relative's home. After Ava goes to sleep, Jenkins turns to a memorial of candles and photos in a corner of the room and speaks to her late daughter, Veronica DuBose, a 29-year-old nursing student who was killed with eight other people a year ago in the Metro Red Line crash.
"Am I raising your daughter the right way?" Jenkins, 52, said she often asks. Veronica "lets me know when I am doing the right thing, because she lets me sleep. . . . It works like that," she said.
The relatives of those killed in the deadliest accident in Metro's history have spent the past year dealing with practical hardships. They have had to find ways to replace lost incomes, care for orphaned children and shift living arrangements to create new homes. But they live with an aching sense of loss that is as raw today as it was in the days after one train slammed into another near Fort Totten Station in Northeast Washington.
Some refuse to ride Metro trains; they're worried about safety and plagued by horrific memories. Lawsuits over the crash, which also injured 80 people, are crawling through the courts, and the National Transportation Safety Board won't announce a formal cause of the accident until late July.
As the months have passed, many family members grew bitter over what they see as the indifference of Metro, government officials and the public to their suffering.
After early expressions of sympathy, Metro officials have "showed nothing, no concern at all," Jenkins said.
Metro created a $250,000 relief fund to help survivors and relatives of victims in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Jenkins said money from that fund helped pay for her daughter's funeral and for some living expenses for her grandchildren, but she still has not been able to buy a headstone for DuBose's grave. She shares a room with Ava in the home of a niece and lives on welfare, food stamps and Social Security. Ava's brother, Raja, went to live with his father in another town.
"It's a struggle, but I am managing," she said. "I'd like for her to be able to have her own bedroom like her mother provided for her."
Frustration peaked this month when Metro failed to consult families about a remembrance ceremony it was planning for the victims Tuesday.
"Metro hasn't done anything. All they are doing is pointing the finger," Jenkins said.
An empty place
Vernard McMillan sometimes stops by the bridge that overlooks the site where his older sister, Metro train operator Jeanice McMillan, 42, of Springfield, perished behind the controls in an accident that by all accounts she could not have prevented. "I can speak to her for a minute and place flowers on the gate of the bridge," he said.
McMillan has become a surrogate father for his sister's son, Jordan, 20, who has suffered from depression since her death. In September, Jordan attempted to return to school at Virginia Union University in Richmond but fell into a deepening and worrisome gloom.