An article yesterday about the Metrorail system should have said that the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act requires that the gap between a train door and a station platform be no more than three inches. The article also stated incorrectly that Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann did not have details about an accident last month involving passenger Donna Williams. Feldmann was not asked about the accident. (Published 11/17/99)
Metro will install rubber strips on the doors of all 764 of its subway cars to narrow the gap between the train and the platform--the same gap in which a passenger's leg got caught Friday night, causing him to be dragged to his death by a moving train, according to police.
Transit officials said the decision to move ahead with the rubber strips was made a few months ago and was triggered by new standards for making trains more accessible to disabled passengers, not by any finding that the current system is unsafe. They also said it is not clear what caused Gennaro Duncan, the 35-year-old District man killed in Friday's accident at the Silver Spring station, to be dragged by the train.
But advocates for the disabled, who have been lobbying Metro to install rubber edging for much of the past year, said Duncan's death might have been prevented if that change had been made sooner.
"This has to be addressed quickly," said Robert Coward, of Capital Area ADAPT, a nonprofit group that represents the disabled and met with Metro officials last month to discuss the gap between subway cars and station platforms. "I don't think Metro is moving fast enough, and now a man has lost his life."
Metro officials said they will not be able to finish installing the new strips until 2002. "We're moving as quickly as we possibly can," said Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann. "We need time to buy the strips, select the vendor and install them on over 700 rail cars while keeping cars in service."
Metro police, who are still investigating Friday night's accident, said Duncan rushed up the escalator and arrived on the platform moments after the doors to a six-car train closed.
The train's operator, Sharon Dennis, 37, appears to have followed Metro procedure, looking out the window of the operator's cab to make sure her passengers were all inside the train before she turned back to her controls, Feldmann said.
At that point, police said, Duncan reached the platform and ran up to the train.
There were no witnesses on the platform, but three passengers who were riding an escalator told police that Duncan's right foot became caught in the space between the car and the platform.
"The train took off and spun him around and pulled him down," said Metro Police Capt. Geoffrey C. Hunter.
Duncan was dragged for about 100 feet before his body fell to the tracks, Feldmann said. The train kept going forward.
Dennis, a Metro train operator for about three years, did not know about the accident until her train reached the Gallery Place-Chinatown station, Feldmann said. Dennis has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, he said.
Feldmann said it is possible that Duncan got pinned between two of the train's cars rather than between the train and the platform.
There are no state or federal regulations regarding the maximum distance between a subway door and a station platform, said Mary Knapp, a spokeswoman at the Federal Transit Administration. But the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act offers a "guideline" of three inches, said Amy Coggin, spokeswoman at the American Public Transit Association.
The gap between Metro trains and station platforms is about four inches, less than in many other subway systems, Feldmann said. The rubber strips will make the gap about 2 1/2 inches wide, he said.
Feldmann conceded that the gap can grow as a train is boarded because the weight of passengers causes it to rock slightly.
Donna Williams said she learned that fact the hard way. On Oct. 12, Williams said, she was boarding a train at L'Enfant Plaza when it shifted slightly and the gap between the door and the platform swallowed her left leg. She said she lost her balance and fell to the platform, screaming.
"I said, 'Oh, my God, somebody help me!' " said Williams, who was on her way to her job as a contract worker for the Environmental Protection Agency. "The platform was very crowded. A bunch of patrons got off the train. People all around tried to pull my leg from where it was stuck."
Someone alerted the train operator not to move the train, while others freed Williams's bloody, bruised left leg, she said. "It was the most scariest thing I've ever encountered in my life," said Williams, who now refuses to ride Metro. "I could have been killed."
Feldmann said he did not have details about that case, and records on how many such accidents have occurred were not available yesterday.
When Williams consulted a personal-injury lawyer about filing a claim against Metro, she found that others had tried over the years without success.
In 1981, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the gaps in a Metro subway train were not "unreasonably dangerous"--setting a precedent that some in the legal community have dubbed "the gap clause."
The family of Gennaro Duncan has retained a lawyer but would not say yesterday if they plan to sue Metro. At the family home in Southeast Washington, most of Duncan's relatives declined to be interviewed. "He was a nice person, that's all I want to say," said an uncle, who would not give his name.
Elsie Amis, a neighbor who had known Duncan since he was born, said he lived at home with his grandmother and did lawn work around the neighborhood. "He was always around helping others," Amis said. "He would cut my grass and take out the trash. We are all surprised."
Staff writer Emily Wax contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Donna Williams's leg was wedged in the gap between a Metro car and the L'Enfant Plaza station platform. Other passengers pulled her free.