Sign up for our free newsletter
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—-Washington City Paper’s continuing coverage of the Red Line collision
Morning all. In WaPo’s A Section today, amid all the second-day stories on the horrific Metro collision, Nikita Stewart examines questions about Mayor Adrian M. Fenty‘s performance as the face of the government response to the tragedy, reporting that ‘his performance during the past two days rubbed already raw nerves, causing friction between Metro and city officials’ and that it ‘drew complaints behind the scenes about his controlling behavior in the 24 hours after the crash.’ Check on-the-record Metro grumblings (‘The spirit of cooperation is not what we would like it to be’) and off-the-record Metro grumblings, over his decision to not report confirmed fatalities at a morning presser. Says ex-mayoral press aide Tony Bullock, ‘It indicates that we’re not really on top of it if we can’t count to nine.’ WCP’s Jason Cherkis looks more closely at the death toll figure.
LL SAYS—-Fenty was absolutely right to take charge at the post-accident press events; it happened in the District of Columbia, and his employees were the first responders to the crash. Once in front of the cameras, he did a decent job, even exiting his usual robot-speak for a moment or two. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin—-save for his habit of lapsing into firefighter jargon—-did an even better job. WHAT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT COOL is silencing people with good information in the time when good information is needed. LL was driving up North Capitol Street at about 5:45 Monday, listening to FEMS PIO Alan Etter giving updates on WTOP. When LL got to the scene just before 6, he couldn’t find Etter or any other city, federal, or Metro spokesperson to give answers to basic questions until a 7:10 news conference. In a disaster, 75 minutes or more without official information is simply an eternity, a void that will be filled by the sorts of unconfirmed reports the shutdown strategy is ostensibly trying to prevent.
AFTER THE JUMP—-Fenty says ‘lives are more important than finances’; Metro’s Orwellian ‘mechanical difficulties’; DCPS “scrubs” gay-themed books from reading lists; and the de facto vacant property tax cut.
THE SECOND DAY STORIES
—-FENTY ON GOOD MORNING AMERICA TODAY: ‘”We do have an independent train system…[but] let’s not try and disperse the blame. Let’s put it on the decision makers and the leaders,” Fenty said, referring to both city and state officials. Fenty said that while replacing or retrofitting the cars “to make them more crash resistant” would have been expensive, “lives are more important than finances.”‘
—-THE INVESTIGATION: WaPo ledes with news that the train’s emergency brakes had been engaged by operator Jeanice McMillan, that the brakes were two months overdue for service, and that the train had been operating in automatic mode. ‘Taken together, experts say these facts point to several possible scenarios: The operator activated the brakes too late; the computers that are supposed to stop a train from getting too close to another train faltered; the train’s brakes failed; or some combination of those. Some passengers on the striking train have said that they never felt the train slow down.’ Also Examiner lede, WaTimes on brake questions, WTOP on ‘sight distance’ tests, NC8 lede, WRC-TV lede, WUSA-TV, WTTG-TV, NYT, PBS NewsHour.
—-SAFETY QUESTIONS: Examiner highlights NTSB safety recommendations on 1000-series cars. From the WaPo lede: ‘Graham said replacing the cars would cost almost $1 billion, money that Metro does not have. Metro is the only major transit system in the country without a source of dedicated funds. The agency appeals every year to the District, Virginia and Maryland for funding, a situation that makes long-term planning difficult.’ Also WaTimes, WAMU-FM, WRC-TV, WUSA-TV, WTTG-TV, Bloomberg, McClatchy, USA Today, WSJ. And Dr. Gridlock notes: ‘Those cars do need to be replaced. They’re approaching the end of their useful lives, and it would make no sense to fix them again. But at the moment, we have no idea whether the age of the 1000 Series had anything to do with the cause of the accident or its consequences for those aboard.’
—-THE VICTIMS: ‘Among the dead was retired Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr. of Washington, a man whose career put him in far more dangerous situations than an evening commute aboard public transit,’ WaPo reports. ‘Wherley, a command pilot who logged more than 5,000 hours in military aircraft, gave the order to scramble planes over Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Wherley, 62, who later became the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, was lauded for the educational programs he helped create for high school dropouts.’ Also identified is his wife, Ann, of Capitol Hill (WTOP, WTTG-TV); Ana Fernandez, 40, of Hyattsville—-mother of six (WTOP profile); LaVonda “Nikki” King, 23, of Northeast (WTOP profile); Veronica DuBose, 29, of the District (WTOP profile); Dennis Hawkins, 64, of the District—-a Whittier Education Center employee (WTOP profile); Mary “Mandy” Doolittle, 59, of the District (WTOP profile); and Cameron Williams, 37, of Takoma Park—-a graduate of Coolidge HS. See very good Examiner profiles, WaTimes, CNN, WRC-TV, WUSA-TV, WTTG-TV, AP.
—-THE OPERATOR: Jeanice McMillan, WaPo reports, ‘was so dedicated to her job that she regularly worked overtime. After she gave up her car, she would sometimes sleep at the administration’s building in Brentwood, take a train home to Springfield and then hop a bus back to work. She so looked forward to her shifts that McMillan would meticulously press her Metro uniform the night before and would glow when talking about her interactions with passengers.’ McMillan came to D.C. from Buffalo more than a decade ago, working as a letter carrier for years before joining Metro as a bus driver in 2007. She started driving trains in December. ‘Friends and family said she thrived on the camaraderie of driving a Metro train.’ Also WTOP, WUSA-TV.
—-THE SEARCH: ‘A half-hour after a Metro train had slammed into another, when no one was sure who was alive and who was dead, a stunned silence settled over hundreds of people at the scene of the deadliest crash in Metro history,’ WaPo reports. Fire Sgt. Chris Holmes scoured the wreckage with search dog Cazo. ‘The scene was similar to those of other catastrophes Holmes and Cazo have worked: the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and a school collapse last year in Haiti. “Everything was mangled, the train split apart, you had seats that were everywhere, personal effects on the ground,” Holmes said. There were also body parts, but he didn’t want to talk about that.’ Also WRC-TV, WTTG-TV.
—-THE COMMUNICATIONS: Dr. Gridlock Robert Thomson asks why ‘Metro did not inform riders of the seriousness of the crash or provide them with direction. Many said they got more accurate information from e-mails, texts and tweets from friends and family.’ Text alerts kept referring to ‘mechanical difficulties’ and ‘disruptions.’ ‘Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein defended the agency, saying Metro got a lot of information out to many riders through its alert systems.’ FROM EXAMINER EDITORIAL—-‘[F]or hours after its deadliest crash ever, Metro kept its riders in the dark about what had happened. Metro has done the same thing for years concerning how it spends its millions of dollars in subsidies from taxpayers….We may not know for another year why Monday’s tragedy happened, but what we do know now is that for years Metro has delayed critically important maintenance, even as it spent exorbitantly on grandiose expansion plans and excessive employee benefits.’ FROM WAPO READER—-‘How about “fatal crash” or “tragic accident”? Until Metro officials can summon some candor, what chance is there that they will get to the bottom of what caused this tragedy and protect riders from a recurrence?’ ALSO—-Did Metro promptly inform the city of the scope of the disaster? Rubin says no.
—-THE HILL: Eleanor Holmes Norton wants a congressional hearing on the crash next month. Statement: ‘The time to act is overdue. Our work to authorize $1.5 billion for Metro came after compelling testimony that the maintenance problems of the system have fallen into the danger zone. Yesterday compelling testimony became compelling and tragic evidence.’ Steny Hoyer, to Examiner, says hold on a minute—-the House majority leader ‘wants to wait and see whether yesterday’s deadly Metro train collision will require any congressional intervention. Hoyer said if investigators determine that a lack of funding resulted in equipment failure or breakdown that contributed to the accident, Congress would get involved.’ And The Hill reports that pro-transit groups are using the crash to push federal funds.
—-THE LAWSUITS: WaTimes: ‘Nobody yet knows who – if anyone – is at fault in the train wreck. But injury lawyers and Metro officials say the lawsuits against the agency are a sure thing. “It is an accepted reality,” said Metro Board Chairman Jim Graham. “As a lawyer, I understand how these things work. It is something we are going to see in the future.” The litigation likely will come not only from the more than 70 injured and the families of the nine dead in the train pileup, but also from many of the other passengers on the subway cars who were frightened or otherwise traumatized. “It will quite easily be tens of millions of dollars,” said Michael I. Krauss, a law professor specializing in torts at George Mason University School of Law.’ Also WCP.
—-THE COMMUTE: Red Line still out of service between Silver Spring and Brookland, Examiner reports, but virtually all major roads are open, and MARC Brunswick Line service has returnerd, albeit delayed. ‘Denise Pincham, of Brandywine, and Denitra Bynum, of Upper Marlboro, opted for the center car Tuesday afternoon. Asked if she would return to the first car one day, Pincham said, “Hell no! I won’t sit in the back either!”‘
—-‘THE PRICE OF PARSIMONY’: WaPo editor Doug Feaver says in op-ed that ‘there are two factors the [NTSB] should specifically address: the parsimony with which all levels of government treat public transit and the silliness of the Washington system not having a dedicated revenue source. Had there been enough money at the right time, Metro could well have replaced or substantially refitted the 30-year-old rail car that ran amok, as the safety board recommended five years ago after another fatal Metro accident….I start with the question of money because it has been Metro’s Achilles heel from the beginning.’
—-‘A BLACK MARK FOR METRO’: Harry Jaffe writes, ‘We are learning that the crash should not have happened. We are finding out that our public officials let us down….In plain language, federal officials told Metro these trains were barely fit for passengers in 2004. The feds investigated a crash in Shady Grove in 2004 and another brake failure in Woodley Park a year later and issued an “urgent” warning….In our current era of transparency, why didn’t we get the “un-crashworthy” memo? As one of the hundreds of thousands of Metro riders who boarded the 1000-series cars, how come I wasn’t clued in?’
—-WaPo: ‘Amid Chaos, 2 Victims Comfort Each Other’: ‘[T]he thing Lanice Beasley kept recalling was the older woman who talked to her even as she was dying beside her on the ground next to the train tracks. The woman told Lanice, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” and Lanice, 14, tried to convince her that she wasn’t, even though she could see where falling debris had split the woman’s chest wide open. Lanice was severely injured herself—-her legs cut so deeply that tendons were severed and the flesh peeled back.’
—-WaPo editorial board addressed the incident, doesn’t say much: ‘The NTSB recommended some safety upgrades that Metro didn’t carry out. That failure to act may stem less from recalcitrance than from the juggling of priorities forced upon Metro by its inadequate funding. It’s important, in any case, not to jump to conclusions; until the safety board finishes what has been promised to be a painstaking investigation, we probably won’t know which of these issues, if any, were factors in the accident….The crash’s impact extended far past the Takoma and Fort Totten stations to the tens of thousands of people who depend on Metro to get them to jobs, homes and play. And it is for that reason, as well as to keep faith with the victims, that Metro must ensure that—-whatever the cause—-such an accident never happens again.’
—-Courtland Milloy on what it all means: ‘We speak of having heavy hearts in the wake of such tragedy, but that is a shared weight, unlike the crushing burden of self-obsession that must be borne alone. Even D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who has become somewhat arrogant and aloof of late, managed to show glimmers of the empathy that helped get him elected. “If you were someone on the train, that was an unbelievable nightmare,” he said, sounding sincere for a change. “It must have been the worst thing in the world.” It is ironic that public tragedy seems to bring out the best in us, making us more aware of our profound capacity for sacrifice and compassion.’
—-EERIE: ‘Monday’s tragedy was similar to a crash on Dec. 30, 1906, when a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad engineer missed a stop signal in dense fog at Takoma Park. His train ran into the rear of a train stopped at Terra Cotta station, killing 52 people. It happened very close to the site of Monday’s tragedy,’ writes WaPo reader.
—-John Catoe: ‘I truly believe Metro is a safe system.’
Is DCPS “scrubbing” gay-themed books from summer reading list? School Library Journal covers the allegations: ‘Officials are taking a second look at the list after a post appeared on the American Library Association’s GLBT listserve that said, “The DC (District of Columbia) Public Schools decided to scrub their summer reading list of all GLTB related books.”…The post was originally made by Jeanne Lauber, a librarian at the DC Public Library on the Yahoo! discussion group “Lezbrian”. She goes on the say, “Apparently the public library system told the schools which books were GLTB (not knowing why they were being asked) and the schools removed them.”…Sources say that a meeting between the school district and public library took place late last week in the hope that GLBT titles will be included on the lists before printed copies are released to students.’
TREY JOYNER SHOOTING—-Following a meeting between Eleanor Holmes Norton and Park Police honchos, Justice Department’s civil rights division will investigate Joyner’s June 8 shooting in Trinidad. Writes Theola Labbé-DeBose in WaPo: ‘The D.C. police have been handling the investigation, but Norton wanted another layer of review. “It was clear to me that this investigation had to be done by the Justice Department, and the civil rights division has done the most work on police shootings,” Norton said.’
WaPo’s Clarence Williams tells the story of ATF agent Bill Crummett, who, hours after the Holocaust Museum shooting, witnessed a street shooting near Sursum Corda—-‘leaving Crummett to make a split-second decision: Engage and risk a firefight or call for help.’ He chose to wait. ‘[H]e tailed the men, and eventually the weapons were recovered and one suspect was arrested. It was a trade-off: Innocent bystanders were safe, but a suspect got away….The incident offers a window into the range of options available to law enforcement officers facing potentially deadly circumstances. Crummett decided not to risk the chance of escalating a gun battle at an intersection crowded with commuters and pedestrians. Instead, he called D.C. police, gave them a description of the suspects and began a low-key pursuit until help arrived.’
MUSEUM SHOOTING—-James von Brunn is still too infirm to appear in federal court, Del Wilber reports in WaPo: ‘At a brief hearing yesterday, federal prosecutor Nicole Waid said doctors indicated that von Brunn might be well enough to attend a court hearing early next week. U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola set a hearing for Tuesday morning.’
Lou Chibbaro Jr. in the Blade on the latest legal wranglings over the gay marriage referendum.
Controversial collapsing Dupont Circle row house will be stabilized by DCRA, Michael Neibauer reports in Examiner. ‘The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will spend $225,000 to ensure the house at 1841 16th St. NW doesn’t fall to the ground…The five- to six-week project, the result of negotiations with the property owner, is expected to begin immediately.’ Owners Amy Mazur and Dr. Joseph Liberman will have to pay the District back or hire new contractors. Also Biz Journal.
DCRA clerk accused of taking bribes is sentenced in federal court. Ikela M. Dean, 32, will get 27 months in prison for taking a $1,275 bribe, WaPo reports, ‘from an FBI undercover agent seeking a temporary permit for a billiard parlor and cigar bar.’ ALSO—-‘Prosecutors said Dean demanded late fees in cash from businesses and nonprofits that were seeking to keep their elevators running. The groups, which included Washington Hospital Center and the Metropolitan Club of Washington, paid the late fees in cash and other invoices by check.’
FINALLY—-New H.D. Woodson High School plans are unveiled, and construction will begin on the $98 million facility. Again. A groundbreaking was held a year ago. Reports WaPo, ‘Fenty attributed the delay to poor designs.’ About the better design: ‘The campus, at 55th and Eads streets NE, is to be finished in July 2011 and will have a pool, two gyms and an adolescent wellness center, officials said. The school system plans to offer evening classes through the University of the District of Columbia, Fenty said at the construction site.’
Biz Journal’s Jonathan O’Connell, in the wake of revenue projections, looks at vacant property taxes: ‘Many investors in D.C. real estate were displeased when the city doubled the vacant property tax last year, but they seem to have hit upon a solution with the city on the new rate: not paying it….Yesterday Natwar Gandhi…asserted that more than 70 percent of the properties he initially billed as vacant have since been let out of the vacant rate by the D.C. Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs. The result is an abysmal collection rate of 16 percent on vacant properties and $37 million in lost tax revenue.’
ALSO—-D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute’s Ed Lazere reacts to the new numbers: ‘With fiscal year 2009 nearly three-fourths over, there are no realistic budget-cutting options. Even if the police and fire departments, libraries and parks were shut down entirely for the next 3 months, we wouldn’t save enough. And it is too late to quickly implement tax or fee increases.’ He points out that ‘nearly all states…typically wait until their budgets return to surplus to replenish their rainy day funds.’ The District has two years—-even if it’s still raining. Ask Congress to ditch the rules, Lazere says.
WaPo: ‘More than half of Washington area charities had dangerously low operating reserves even before the recession began, leaving them especially vulnerable to service reductions in a time of sharply declining revenue, according to a new report,’ Megan Greenwell writes. ‘The reasons that groups lack operating reserves vary, but one major factor is the feeling among nonprofit leaders that they should spend as much as possible on program expenses….Consequently, direct-service organizations, such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters, which often struggle to find money to provide services, are among the least likely to have sufficient operating reserves.’
SCOTUS: Yes, DCPS, you still have to pay for private special-ed placements. Notes the American Prospect, ‘Many education reformers will be disgruntled with this decision: In D.C., for example, gadfly Schools Superintendent Michelle Rhee has frequently cited special education costs as a major road block to her planned overhaul of the public schools, which includes a merit pay proposal that would allow teachers to earn as much as $130,000 a year.’
Cheneys—-yes, those Cheneys—-to donate automatic external defibrillators to District groups. ‘The ReStart DC program of the Cheney Cardiovascular Institute at George Washington University already has distributed 50 Philips HeartStart AEDs to local groups where large numbers of people gather, such as houses of worship and senior and community centers. Another 150 are expected to be delivered this year.’
We Love DC looks at the old D.C. streetcar system.
Thanks to Silver Line construction, Dulles Toll Road fees to double in three years.
Folklife Festival starts today.
D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-9 a.m.: Committee on Economic Development hearing on B18-205 (“District Land Disposition Amendment Act of 2009”) and PR18-316 (“Bellevue Neighborhood Investment Plan Approval Resolution of 2009”), JAWB 500; 11 a.m.: Committee on Economic Development and Committee on Finance and Revenue joint hearing on B18-310 (“New Convention Center Hotel Amendments Act of 2009”), JAWB 500.
ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-10:30 a.m.: attendee, DPR senior picnic, Takoma Recreation Center, 300 Van Buren St. NW.