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Woman commits suicide via Metro train at Ballston station

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Original: Brig Cabe/Examiner     The Ballston Metrorail entrance in front of the Ballston Metro Center, in the Ballston section, on july 12, 2006 in Arlington Virginia.
Published: No Published Caption Original: Brig Cabe/Examiner The Ballston Metrorail entrance in front of the Ballston Metro Center, in the Ballston section, on july 12, 2006 in Arlington Virginia.
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Metro,Metro and Traffic

A 57-year-old Manassas woman died after lying down in front of an Orange Line train Monday, becoming the first suicide on the Metro system in 2013.

Her death shut down service entirely at the Ballston station, where the eight-car train struck her, stopping trains for nearly four hours between the East Falls Church and Virginia Square stops. Metro did not release the woman's name, as per an agency policy.

The woman apparently sat down on the edge of the western end of the inbound platform, hopped down, then laid down on the tracks before an eight-car train barreled into the station at 11:29 a.m., according to Metro. Riders witnessed her from the platform, and surveillance video captured her actions, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

Need help?
The American Association of Suicidology says the best intervention comes before a person heads to the subway. The group urges friends, family and co-workers to take seriously warning signs that include:
» Increased alcohol or drug use
» No reason for living or lack of sense of purpose
» Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
» Withdrawal from friends, family and society
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's toll-free number, 800-273-TALK (8255), for direct help or guidance on how to intervene.
Suicides by Metro train
2009 14 cases: 11 deaths and 3 attempts
2010 5 cases: 3 deaths and 2 attempts
2011 10 cases: 6 deaths and 4 attempts
2012 11 cases: 5 deaths and 6 attempts
2013 year to date* 1 case: 1 death
*As of Monday

But riders on the train initially did not know what had happened.

Mark Seikaly, 22, was headed to his job in Chinatown when his train stopped halfway into the station. The train sat for about three to four minutes before the operator announced the train was out of service. Then the lights went off. "To be honest, I thought that it was something like a bomb threat at first," he told The Washington Examiner.

Riders still didn't know what had happened as they were ushered out of the train and over to the opposite platform, he said, until some checked online and saw the news. "Everyone's faces were in complete shock," he said. "I've been riding the Metro my entire life and have never been a part of something like this. It's chilling just to think about."

Metro has been grappling with suicides on the transit system, as do many agencies around the world. The deaths traumatize riders, train operators and the crews who must respond to them, while delaying riders across the system.

After pledging to fight the problem amid a spike of cases in 2009, Metro has been training all train operators and station managers on how to spot -- and intervene -- with suicidal riders. The training is expected to be complete this month. Late this summer, Metro began adding signs to its stations that include a hot line number for distressed riders to call.

But the suicide intervention signs did not appear to help Monday. The Ballston station has signs showing the crisis hotline on either end of the platform, Stessel said, and has backlit public service ads around the station, too. It was the fifth attempt since Metro started posting the signs, but only the second fatality.

Service at the station was stopped until 3 p.m., then trains shared a single track until about 3:30 p.m., with subsequent delays lasting until about 4 p.m.

"A couple of factors lengthened the duration of the recovery," Stessel said. Ballston has platforms on the side of the station, meaning Metro needs to shut down both tracks for the safety of first responders, the medical examiner and cleaning crews. The agency had to wait for the medical examiner to arrive and conduct an investigation before the train or body remnants could be removed and cleaned up, he said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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