A Metro investigation of an accident in which a 3-year-old girl died after falling on an escalator at a subway station in Northeast Washington has found no evidence of any shortcoming by the transit authority.
"No modifications in facilities and equipment or changes in procedures would have prevented this accident," said a report issued yesterday by a seven-member committee of safety and other officials. The panel found "no defects" in the escalator and described actions by Metro employes as "timely and correct."
The child, Melissa Gilbert of Northwest Washington, was fatally injured in January after a drawstring attached to the hood of her jacket became caught in an escalator's treads at the Minnesota Avenue station. Her death, attributed to strangulation, was the first fatal accident on a Metro escalator.
John P. Coale, a lawyer representing the girl's family, denounced the Metro report as "arrogant" and "ridiculous." The family has sued the transit system and the escalator's manufacturer for $90 million. "I think this accident could have been prevented," Coale said.
The Metro report concluded: "Without eyewitnesses to the accident, it is not possible to determine exactly how the child's clothing became engaged in the escalator."
Nevertheless, Coale said he has evidence indicating that the girl initially fell after a shoe became caught at the edge of the escalator's steps. The evidence, he said, includes a damaged shoe and statements by the girl's grandmother, Gertrude E. Truesdale, who accompanied her.
"There are ways to prevent this," Coale said, adding that falls caused by shoes getting caught in escalators are "a known danger."
Possible precautions include placing markers near the middle of an escalator's steps to encourage people to avoid the edges and installing special guards along the sides, Coale said.
Coale also criticized the way Metro employes responded to the accident, saying, "If they had reversed the escalator immediately, she would have lived."
A Metro spokesman declined to comment on Coale's statements, citing the lawsuit.
Although initial reports indicated it took 20 minutes to free the girl from the escalator, a D.C. Fire Department spokesman said recently that the issue had not caused concern. Rescue workers, following normal procedures, had administered oxygen and begun treating the girl before trying to free her.
According to the Metro report, the girl's grandmother was initially found lying next to the child at the base of the escalator. A Metro source cited a D.C. police document attached to the report describing the girl's grandmother as "somewhat intoxicated and hysterical." Coale said he has evidence to prove the woman was not intoxicated.
The Metro report recommended further efforts to alert passengers to hazards of using escalators. It urged the authority to consider possible changes in equipment, such as installing yellow markers at the bottoms of escalators and devices to stop escalators more slowly in emergencies.
But the report said that "none of these projects would have prevented this particular accident."