Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Metrorail station manager at Landover, Timothy Lee, had previously worked for Boston’s subway system. Lee worked at Metrorail’s Ballston Station. This version has been corrected.
It isn’t often that a Metro station manager saves a person from jumping in front of a train. For Timothy Lee, it’s happened twice in just more than a year, most recently in April, when he stopped a young woman who had been dangling her legs from the platform at Landover Station.
On Thursday, Metro’s top officials awarded the 27-year employee a plaque and heaps of praise for his actions.
“What he did was heroic,” said Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s managing director of public relations. “He spotted her, understood her actions and had the instinct that she might be in harm’s way and stopped her. It is absolutely extraordinary.”
Lee, 50, was in the station’s kiosk about to do a routine check along the platform.
He looked at a security camera and noticed a young woman walking along the edge of the platform. Lee, who has worked at Landover for three years, said he’d seen people do that before, so he wasn’t immediately alarmed and thought he’d simply ask her to step away from the edge.
But when he got on the platform, she was dangling her legs over the track. Lee yelled for her to get up, but she got on all fours as if positioning herself to jump. Lee said he then gingerly approached her.
“I knew once I hollered towards her to get up and she totally ignored me that I had a problem,” he said.
Lee said he grabbed her arm and pulled her back just as a train pulled into the station.
“When I grabbed her, she was lifeless,” Lee said. “She had no emotion.”
Lee called Metro’s operations center and Metro Transit Police. Police arrived quickly and transported the woman to an area hospital.
“She appeared totally normal at first, but she was, in the end, very distraught,” he said. Lee said some of the young woman’s friends arrived and told authorities that she had posted messages to Twitter that day “telling everyone goodbye.”
Suicides on subways are a problem in many major rail systems.
In the past few years, Metro officials reported a surge in the number of suicides. In 2008, there were five; 10 in 2009; and last year, there were seven.
Metro said it does not have a specific policy regarding how employees should deal with someone who appears suicidal. The agency has a “training module” that covers how to observe platform areas and look for “suspicious conduct,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. Employees are encouraged to call authorities if they need assistance in a situation, he said.
To try to deal with the problem, Metro plans to implement a suicide-prevention program aimed at training rail, safety and police employees on how to identify suicidal behavior. A $250,000 contract will be awarded in two phases. The training portion is expected to be awarded in June, Metro officials said.
Metro has said bus drivers, train operators and station managers will be trained to spot and talk to suicidal people and call on a local crisis-response team. Metro employees would not be taught to physically restrain people contemplating or attempting suicide, they said.
Metro officials and Lee said that he did not have any formal training in how to stop someone from committing suicide. He simply reacted to the situation, he said.
Metro police said it is rare that an employee is able to intervene and stop someone from committing suicide on the subway lines.
Bowersox said it is fortunate that Lee was able to react so quickly, given that station managers often have to multitask as they watch camera monitors and fare gates and give riders directions.
Station managers “have a lot of activity going on, and to be that insightful about one person shows real attention,” Bowersox said of Lee. “It is heroic that he was able to act so quickly and think so clearly about what to do.”
For Lee, it wasn’t his first time saving someone from committing suicide on a D.C. area train.
Last summer, Lee heard a call come across his radio from a train operator saying there was a disturbance on the platform at Landover.
Lee went up to the platform and found a man lunging toward the tracks and yelling that he wanted to kill himself. Lee tried to stop him by grabbing his shirt.
When the man wriggled out of his shirt, Lee grabbed his pants. The man tried to wriggle out of his pants and at one point was standing almost naked on the platform, Lee said. Lee held on to the leg of the man’s pants, which were around his ankles, until authorities arrived on the scene.
Asked how it felt to have saved people from attempting suicide, Lee had one word to say: “Good.” He noted that he wanted to share one more story.
In a previous position at the Ballston Metro stop, he was walking one day in the station when a woman dressed in military uniform stopped him and asked for help. He talked with her for a bit before she went on her way.
The next day, he said, there was a letter for him at the station. In it, the woman thanked him for taking the time to talk with her and wrote, “Before I talked to you I was on my way to kill myself,” he said.
“I feel great sorrow for those people who do [want to try to commit suicide] because all of us have demons we’re fighting,” Lee said. “I don’t look at people en masse. I look at people as individuals.
“Everybody has a story. You have to be careful because you never know what’s on somebody’s mind.”