Horrible Fight on Metro Sat. Night – Reader Account

Ghosts in the Metro Light
Photo from PoPville flickr user Bogotron

A reader writes:

“On Saturday evening, at approximately 9:30, my girlfriend and I were coming back from a wonderful dinner at the Majestic Café in Old Towne. We boarded a yellow-line train at the King Street stop and proceeded to head back into the city. At Pentagon City a group of approximately 25 high school aged kids joined us in the second metro car. As the train traveled between the Pentagon City and Pentagon metro stops, the kids acted like normal teenagers, loud, flirtatious and somewhat obnoxious (hey, we were all like this once) but they were, most importantly, harmless. All that changed once the train left the platform at Pentagon.

As the train made its longer transfer over the river to L’Enfant a massive brawl broke out between the kids. Now, I’m not talking a little pushing, a couple punches and some scratching, what we witnessed was an all out, no holds barred street brawl in a metro car. Only with a street brawl, bystanders can escape. The fight broke loose around the center doors, where a group about 20 or so boys were kicking, punching, elbowing and screaming at each other. I’m not entirely sure how the fight started, as I was facing the front of the car with my back to the melee but once the commotion started I sat up in my seat and hovered over my girlfriend to protect her from any wayward punches. I think in the back of my mind I expected this to be short tussle, a couple pushes, a punch here and there and a lot of swearing. It became clear that the fight was a more serious matter when one lad was pulled from the throng by a few other boys, shoved into one of the inward facing seats next to the glass partitions at the center door, and was given a more thorough going over. The boy tried to protect his head with his arms as the other boys took turns beating him about the face and neck, until finally one boy hit him so hard that his head smacked the glass partition so hard that it cracked the glass. There was blood everywhere. At this point I still in my seat, protecting my girlfriend, the severity of the situation sank in. I was, needless to say, very concerned for our safety. At this moment I noticed that most of the other passengers not involved in the fight had fled the car though the forward emergency door. Evidently, one of the other passengers got on the emergency intercom to let the conductor know of the fight and then passed through the emergency door. Fearing a further escalation in violence, i.e. that someone might have had a gun, we made our escape to the other metro car.

The situation in the first metro car, the driver’s car, was not much better. While no one was fighting, at least one boy pulled a knife and started shouting that he was going to go back in the second metro car and “poke someone.” Thankfully, the boy was restrained by some of his cooler-headed friends and, at least to my knowledge, a bad situation did not get any worse. Luckily for us, by this time the train was pulling into L’Enfant and we along with many other passengers made our exit. I’m not sure how much longer the fight went on in the second metro car. On the platform we were not greeted by transit police, nor did the train operator off-load the train. Rather it continued on its normal route, as if nothing had happened. We went up to the station manager’s booth, and informed the staff that they needed to get transit police to meet the train at the next station. The reaction of the station staff was not very reassuring and I didn’t not get the impression that anything would be done. Having had enough excitement for one evening we left the station and took a cab the rest of the way home.

Now, I know from talking to other passengers who escaped the fight that the metro operator knew about the fight taking place in the second car, so why then was there no police presence on the platform; why then did the operator not off-load the train; why then did the train continue on its normal route? Shouldn’t the operator have radioed ahead that there was a fight on the train to have transit police standing by to deal with the situation? Now, I don’t blame metro for a fight breaking out on one of its trains, these things, regrettably happen, but the lack of response or any sense of urgency once informed, is troubling.”

I wonder what the appropriate response time is to get Metro Transit police to respond to an incident like this. I know they can’t be at every station so I image it could take up 15 minutes or so to get to some stations. This is an insanely frightening experience.

38 Comment

  • welcome to the party, pal

  • Ignorant statement T. What if that had been your mother or wife or partner caught in the mix.

    Metro is failing left and right, yet they want their annual rate increase.

    Talk about a racket!

  • Call your city councilman, the mayor’s office, etc. Do not wait days before doing this! Do this that night!

  • I would guess the driver may have been going off shift soon and didn’t want to stay longer to fill out the work.
    I reported somone smoking on the platform to the metro station manager and she was really responsive – got out of her booth to go yell at him.
    I would have called 911 from the station.

  • yeah, the cops and transit police need to know, and asap.

  • Someone needs to get fired.

  • Please send your story to Metro transit police and whatever passes for customer service/PR over there. You know the train, the date, and the time, and so they know the conductor and station staff present at the time. They need, at the very least, to reprimand them and you deserve a response. Don’t stop pestering them until you get one. Also, call the city paper, or any other new outlet you feel might listen to you. Metro frequently only responds if their crappiness is brought out into the light.

  • Agreed – alot of the letters written to the Post’s Dr. Gridlock by transit riders are from people frustrated by a lack of response from Metro, but when Metro knows that something is going to be published in the paper all of the sudden they decide to actually address the situation. The train operator should be punished for putting so many people in danger by not doing anything.

  • L’Enfant has cell service, as do most of the bigger stations, also it’s above ground between Pentagon and L’Enfant, so calling the regular cops through 911 is possible. My guess is they then call the transit cops. And I’d tell Metro to retrain all the drivers to call Metro transit cops for all such incidents.

  • Call Jim Graham’s office. He is on the metro board.

  • You know, I’ve been witness to two fights in the last six months while riding on metro. Both scared the crud out of me, for exactly the reason that the writer says. You feel completely trapped. The fights involved lots of people (one was on the way home from a Nationals game so the car was extremely crowded) were divided along racial lines, and escalated extremely quickly. The one that ended at L’Enfant Plaza the kids were the instigators ran away laughing when the door opened. It all happened so fast, I don’t think anyone hit the emergency call button. But the other one (Ending at Judiciary Square) we were met by metro police who stood at every door, didn’t allow the doors to open until they had assessed the situation and knew where the trouble was, and questioned the kids when they got off the train (passengers had indicated who was involved to the police when the door opened.)

    I was really impressed with metro police’s quick response and ability to de-escalate the situation. They spoke with the accused kids for near 10 minutes after we left. (They were still there when the next train came through a friend who was one train behind me informed me.)

    These gross generalizations that the entire metro system being negligent and broken has got to be totally demoralizing for those who ARE still trying to do their job. I know there are a lot of bad experiences out there, but no one talks about the bus driver who delivered me with out incidence to my stop on time last night.

    Yes, this particular driver was negligent. The “end of shift theory” is probably a good bet. That sucks, I agree.

    Question about the call buttons: Is there some record of when it goes off to verify the problem? Is the driver already locked into extra paper work the minute the call button is hit? Do people know where it is and how to use it? I didn’t even think of it when I saw the first fight. What are the chances that the person closest to the front of a car is a tourist and doesn’t know what to do? Everyone is so busy watching the fight and protecting their own, it may be an afterthought. I’d assume if I didn’t hit the call button myself, no one else has…

    • It’s good to hear metro’s speedy reaction to the fight you mentioned at Judiciary Square. Today’s paper also had an interesting article about how a metro station manager’s quick action (and the work of good Samaritans) helped save the life of a woman who had fallen onto the tracks at Union Station. The station manager contacted the operations center and got them to cut power to the third rail, stopping the oncoming train from hitting the woman who had fallen (while the Samaritans lifted her from the tracks).

      Just as it would be wrong to generalize all metro staff as incompetent on the basis of one incident, I would not generalize all of them as heroic life-savers based on what happened at Union Station – but I’d bet there is a lot more competence among metro staff than people give them credit for.

  • To the original poster

    In addition to this fine blog your account should go to:
    1. The DC Police
    2. The Washington Post
    3. The local news networks

  • So if there was a terrorist threat in one of the cars would the train operator give the same response as he did? Why are these people not fired yet? How has metro changed? I still see the same incompetent people working this system. I mean aren’t we in a recession? Are you telling me we couldn’t find capable workers from across the country who actually care about their jobs and our safety. I am sure many workers from Michigan will gladly replace the horrible workers metro has now.

  • I was in a car during a similar situation (strangly also at L’enfant Plaza) a couple months ago. And this time a boy pulled a gun out of his pants. I got off at the next stop and called 911. The operator assured me that police had already been dispatched..but the train kept on moving.

  • What on earth does Jim Graham have to do with a metro brawl in VIRGINIA. I mean heavens to betsy. I know we like to use him as a scapegoat for just about everything but this is not his problem. Furthermore. Who is it that would get fired over this? What could the conducter have done differently to stop a spontaneous fight between stations that nobody saw coming?

    • Read the above posts. No one blaming the conductor or Metro for not stopping the fight. They are blaming them for not responding to it. The people who should get fired are those that did not respond to it when called – at the very least they should get a stern talking to.

      • Or rather we are blaming the conductor for not responding to it fast enough. Based on this letter, all we know is that the train didn’t stop at the station immediately after it left Pentagon (i.e. within a minute of being informed of the fight). The conductor may have called ahead and gotten police to arrest the youth at Archives for all we know.

    • Your second question is way too easy: the conductor could have stopped the train short of the L’enfant station until he knew there was an adequate police presence at that station to deal with the situation, then offloaded the train while the police arrested the offenders and ensured that innocent bystanders such as the writer didn’t get hurt.

  • Because he’s a douchebag and he allowed the system to get this bad. “Board of Directors” are the people who are supposed to take care of metro safety. There’s even a committee for it and he sits on it.

    The train conductor should stop the damn train and wait for police rather than presenting the metro cops with a moving target. How are the cops supposed to catch up with these kids when the train is moving between stations.

    Use your brain….

    • So Graham should have what? Banned teenagers from the metro? put a cop on every train car? Been on the train himself and physically prevented the altercation?

      • Graham should have encouraged regular modest fair increases over the past 10 years instead of catering to the lowest denominator of voter. He should not have allowed the transportation union to roll him so badly that what’s left of metro is an embarrassment. He should have taken passenger safety serious enough that there is a procedure that is followed every single time there’s an incident or someone loses his job. That’s what the public expects of the system. He is the person who’s supposed to represent our needs, not the needs of the TU. He’s got the spine of a jellyfish.

        Jim graham has been on the board for 10 years. Everything that’s wrong with metro today falls on his shoulders. I can’t even figure out what the process is for him to get selected to the board. All he did was sit on his hands and complain that DC/VA/Feds didn’t pony up more money. Now we have a crisis. Get rid of him.

    • How is the conductor suppose to know who the perps where? If the riders won’t come forward and identify the people or teens responsible. IF anyone is responsible it’s Metro Transit Police Department that provides a false sense of security not the conductors for doing there job, moving buses and trains.

  • do what i do. use the emergency intercom and lie. tell them someone was stabbed, and is bleeding and possibly dying. it’s a crappy way to do things, but it works. you can always say, “that’s what i think i saw”….

  • Folks, consider the possibility that in many cases the train operator may be trying to get the train closer to where the police are (or are coming from) — that is, rendezvous with the responding officers to reduce the actual response time. Granted, this assumes that our pack of feral scumbags doesn’t flee at the first opening of the doors; as often as not, though, they are so self-absorbed and oblivious that they stick around.

    You’ll get no disagreement from me that many Metro rail and bus personnel are hired from the very bottom of the proverbial barrel — but then again, this is DC where the lowest common denominator is extremely low and extremely common. So give Metro management a break. Most supervisors are as frustrated and disgusted as we are with the “human resources” that they have to somehow turn into a marginally productive and useful workforce. And, I would note, this situation isn’t limited to Metro; it’s endemic to DC. Marion Barry has spent the last four decades making good and sure of that by destroying every element of DC’s governance and society that he can get his hands on.

    Folks, what we should be focusing on is not Metro’s response in this case and others like it, but why we as a city are putting up with this conduct from even one worthless little scumbag, let alone roving packs of ’em. I know, I know: I should sympathize with the poor lil’ fellas — I’m sure they looked utterly downtrodden, repressed, dejected, and hopeless as they polluted OUR public sphere with violent mayhem. But &$#% it, I work hard, pay my taxes, and stay out of trouble…is that REALLY too much to ask?

    • I agree, Shawn. Incredible how people rationalize violent behavior by saying these kids are just being teenagers. Sorry, but I didn’t get in brawls and pull knives on people when I was a teenager. That excuse is complete bull$hit and no one posting here would tolerate that sort of behavior from their kids. Don’t expect things to change anytime soon as the politicians have no intention of addressing the issue for fear of pissing off their constituency.
      Do yourselves a favor next time – when the hip hop kids get on your Metro car shouting at the top of their lungs, get off at the next station instead of hoping they don’t act out Lord of the Flies for you.

  • It’s a shame cell phone pics or video weren’t taken and sent to local news. I would bet that is a sure fire way to get a response from Metro higher-ups.

  • I’ve posted it here before, but the direct number for Metro Transit Police is 202-962-2121. I’d probably call 911 first then immediately call Transit Police – DC’s 911 call takers and dispatchers routinely fail to get the message across in my experience.

  • I’m not sure there’s any blame for the conductor here, either. For those who suggest he could have stopped the train at L’Enfant and waited for the cops to offload, what if someone was blocked from an emergency exit but had access to a regular door? Would it really be wise to trap these people on board with dangerous and potentially armed people while waiting for the cops to get there?

  • Everyone should program this into their speed dials.

  • Poop’s got an answer for everything, doesn’t it?

  • Transit police were at my Police Service Area 602 meeting last night and (for the sake of repetition) gave 202-962-2121 as the direct dial to transit police. The officers reported they are understaffed and they are budgeted for in the WMATA budget(!). Those fare increases cover not only capital improvements and line expansions but our security. Remember, next Wed., Jan. 27, 5:30p WMATA HQ (600 5th St. NW) is holding its public meeting about the ’10 budget emergency & ’11 budget. This story should be told.

  • Here’s a reality check: the letter writing, calls, bitching and moaning don’t change things like random fights on the Metro. Yes, it was a dangerous and frightening incident. We love in an urban core of about 700,000 people and a metro area of 5 million- random fights anywhere, including the Metro, will happen.

    Would you feel more secure if there were “train marshalls” on every other car to coldcock someone if they suspected they might get out of hand, or god forbid, disturb your date night?

    Be smart, stay safe, and keep your head low when the sh*t goes down. There is much more good here than there is bad.

  • Not surprised. This attitude has been around forever in this city, esp when it comes to Metro employees.

    Also – They police were probably meeting the train at the next station.

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