Families of Fort Totten crash victims welcome new plaque

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Local,DC,Transportation,Kytja Weir

It's been three years since a Metro train slammed into the back of another train on the way to the Fort Totten station during an afternoon commute, killing nine people and injuring about 80 others.

But victims' family members and officials said at an anniversary memorial on Friday that the crash remains a constant reminder to them, as they said it should be to the region and transit systems nationwide. They gathered on the New Hampshire Avenue bridge in Northeast D.C. overlooking the crash site, where Mayor Vincent Gray dedicated a plaque to the victims.

"It's the first step in having the region realize we need to start looking at transit safety," said Kenneth Hawkins, who lost his brother Dennis.

The event was also another chance at healing.

At the first anniversary, family members' emotions were raw, with many relatives angry that Metro had not apologized for the crash or made contact with families.

At the second anniversary, Metro unveiled a similar memorial inside the Fort Totten train station, which insulted family members. They complained they had to pay to go inside the system to see the memorial and that their loved ones never got to the station that day.

Last year, Gray pledged to make things right. So this time, they got a plaque in the spot where families had already made an impromptu memorial.

"It's where it needed to be," Hawkins said after the ceremony.

Metro did not organize the event, and agency officials stayed in the background this time, with only one board member, D.C. Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, addressing the audience. Her Ward 4 is home to the crash site.

"What we're doing is working every day to honor the folks who were lost by improving the safety of the Washington Metro," Metro General Manager Richard Sarles told The Washington Examiner.

The agency did play a role in setting the tone, though. Amid the ceremony, trains passed under the bridge, bending around the same corner where the crash occurred. Some trains sounded their horns repeatedly as they passed through, in a haunting tribute.

It was a spontaneous act by some operators to honor the accident victims, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. But the train horns stopped midway through the program, with only the rumble of the trains passing through.

"While we understand the sentiment, it was incongruent with the solemn atmosphere on the bridge, and we asked operators to refrain from using horns during the event unless necessary for safety reasons," Stessel said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner