Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, I was on the Red Line, heading home, when a woman got on with three young children in tow. I offered her my seat, but she declined, and then proceeded to sit on the floor with the youngest child, about 3 years old.

The child said something and she told him to shut up. The more noises he made, the more she shouted at him to shut up.

Then he started crying and she hit him. The more he cried, the more she hit him. At one point, he started to move and she pulled him back so violently that he hit his head on the bulkhead. She said that's what he deserves, because he's nothing but a crybaby.

Conversations stopped and books closed. She and this baby became the focus of attention. Some looked directly at what was happening while others looked away, like that would help them, but what was happening escaped no one.

I would have given anything to have picked up that baby and held him, if only for the duration of the ride. But I didn't. Instead, I moved to the back of the car to escape her hitting him, because she never stopped.

I would like to know what other readers would have done in this situation.

Frank Leone

Wheaton

What a disturbing story. When I first read it, I was not sure what to do either. With the luxury of time to think about it, however, I've come to this conclusion:

This was an ongoing assault on a 3-year-old. The child's welfare was in danger during that ride, and probably in the future. (If the adult would do that in front of so many witnesses, how would she behave if there were none?)

First, I would have approached her on hands and knees to get to her level and quietly noted that she seemed to have her hands full. Then I would have offered to help with the children, pulling out some car keys to dangle in front of the crying child or done whatever it took to interrupt the beating.

If she persisted in the attack, I think I'd have executed your first instinct, Frank: Pick up the child and protect it from the adult. I'll bet that once the ice was broken, any number of fellow passengers would have stepped forward to help. I Hope that someone would have tried to summon a Metro police officer.

I would want to turn that child over to a police officer and get enough information (officer's name, likely case file) that I could find out what happened and make sure the incident was reported to the appropriate child protective services office. There needs to be a record of this woman's behavior, and there should be a medical examination of all her children to help determine abuse.

That's all easy to say now. Maybe the woman was armed, on drugs, drunk. Once a bystander gets involved, keeping a child from a violent mother, there's no telling what might happen. For the child's sake, though, I'd like to think I would have stepped forward.

What would you folks have done in Frank's place?

Large for the Large

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I agree with L.C. Catlin of Springfield, who wrote in your Nov. 15 column that those extended sport utility vehicles (Suburbans, Expeditions) should have larger parking spaces at malls so that other drivers parked abreast can get into and out of their normal-sized cars.

The drivers of these behemoths should be forced to park far away in larger spots. That way they won't get in the way of smaller cars, pedestrians and bicyclists, who should be rewarded for not contributing to pollution and gridlock.

Seth Marcus

Rockville

No Concessions for SUVs

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I think you missed the boat on these behemoths. Why not make special docking spaces for them on the outskirts of the lots?

SUV owners are such outdoor enthusiasts they shouldn't mind the extra steps to navigate their way to the store. Or perhaps they could call a cab.

Joseph Buckingham

Accokeek

If You Can't Beat Them. . .

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Well, well, well. Someone else is griping about the large SUVs. One day I got so fed up following behind a huge, slow-moving Lincoln Navigator that I went home and vented my anger. My husband said, "Why don't you join them? Just get one." So I did.

I bought a Ford Explorer, which is plenty big for me. But I still get upset when I have to follow the larger Navigator or an Expedition. And now Ford has the audacity to produce a 19-foot-long SUV! Tell L.C. Catlin it ain't over yet. They will build them as long as people buy them.

As for getting store managers to set aside parking for the big SUVs, fat chance. They can't even get rid of the idiots parking in the grocery loading zones.

Judy Bidwell

Centreville

I had no idea there were such hostile feelings toward the extra-large SUVs. But I must admit, I'm just amazed when I look at the size of a Chevrolet Suburban. How do Suburban drivers get around the corners of a downtown garage? How do they parallel park? Do they feed two parking meters, one for the front and one for the rear?

Dr. Gridlock would like to hear from owners of Suburbans and Expeditions, and the King of the Road, the new Ford Excursions. Why did you buy them?

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.