The question buzzed in the stairwells, down the corridors, in the offices of the Arlington County Court House all day yesterday: "Did you hear," employees asked one another, "about what happened to poor Wiley?"

Seddie Wiley Madison, a 69-year-old blind man who ran the courthouse snack bar for most of four decades, was killed Thursday afternoon when he stepped between two Metro cars at the Court House station in Arlington.

"I'm absolutely devastated," said Barbara Chandler, who directs a county program for crime victims. "I still can't accept it. He's been here so long, he's like part of the building."

Wiley's, a takeout counter in the basement of the building, was little more than an oversized kiosk, but still managed to be the courthouse hangout. Lawyers could be found there, discussing their clients' cases over a cup of coffee. Judges came in to wolf down a sandwich. For courthouse workers, it was a place for a quick stand-up lunch.

Madison, who lived in Arlington, was clever and coy and could be a little brusque at times. But customers marveled at his ability to make change from a $20 bill, although he could not see it. He could locate a pack of Salems behind the counter and know it was not a pack of Marlboros. He knew his customers by name, although he had nothing more than the sound of their voices to go by.

"Wiley is kind of an institution in the Arlington County Court House," said Peter Larkin, director of a county alcohol abuse treatment program. "Wiley even antedates the courthouse building. They designed the space in the basement especially for him when they built the building 30 years ago."

Before the darkened door of Wiley's yesterday, someone had placed a vase of yellow freesias, bound by a yellow ribbon. Taped to the door was a scrawled note of affection and farewell.

Madison apparently was on his way home from work shortly before 3 p.m. He may have thought the gap between subway cars was an open door into a car and fell from the platform to the tracks.

Ray Burnette, of Oakton, who was on the train, said people on the platform tried to alert the driver, but the train began to pull out of the station. Madison was alive when rescuers reached him, but was dead on arrival at Arlington Hospital.

Burnette and fellow passenger Tom Adams, of Arlington, said they attempted to contact the train operator by pressing the emergency intercom button, but got no response.

"I don't think that even if he had stopped, it would have changed anything," Burnette said yesterday. "But I'm certain that in another situation, it might have made a difference."

Seth Miller, of Arlington, who was on the platform, said he had difficulty locating a station attendant to report the accident.

"All of the circumstances of the incident are under investigation by transit police," said Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg.

Madison's funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday in the chapel of Arlington Funeral Home, 3901 N. Fairfax Dr. He is survived by his wife, two children and four grandchildren.

One of those who will remember him and his stand is the hot dog vendor who works the street outside the courthouse.

"I went there once or twice to get a cup of coffee," said Eskinder Teferra. "He always seemed like a nice guy. He was the competition, but so what?"