Metro is investigating the circumstances that led to the death of a man who fell from the top of an escalator in Columbia Heights station in a motorized wheelchair.
Transit officials released new details about the incident at Thursday’s board meeting, and also confirmed that the station elevator was functioning properly when the man opted to use the escalator instead.
The 66-year-old man has not been identified by D.C. Fire or Metro officials.
The incident occurred just after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Video footage reviewed by The Washington Post shows that the man waited at the left elevator on the lower level of the station for about 14 seconds before maneuvering his motorized wheelchair onto an “up” escalator. The man disappears from the frame as the escalator ascends. Some time later, horrified passengers begin rushing down the escalator as the wheelchair tumbles to the bottom.
Metro Chief Safety Office Pat Lavin said the elevator arrived on the lower level of the station less than a minute after the man pushed the button to call it.
The “elevator was functioning at the time and was available for use,” Lavin said.
Lavin said that once the man approached the top of the escalator, his wheelchair tumbled down the moving staircase, which suddenly halted.
“The circumstances as to why the escalator came to a stop will be part of the investigation,” he said, though he later clarified that Metro officials believe the escalator halted after the man began to fall.
The man was taken to Medstar Washington Hospital where he died, Lavin said. Another person suffered a minor leg injury from being struck by the wheelchair, Lavin said, but declined to be taken to the hospital.
“Metro will continue to investigate,” he said.
The escalator at Columbia Heights remained closed off Thursday.
The incident has drawn concerns from members of the disabilities community, some of whom have called for more information on the circumstances that led to the fatality. Some have also insisted that the man may have assumed that the elevator was not working when rather than wait for it he decided to use the escalator.