News & Politics

“I’m Not Riding the Subway Anymore”

Nearly a year later, survivors of the Metro smoke tunnel incident tell their stories.

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Rogers.

Steve McCraw

In news accounts after the January incident, he was described by witnesses only as the “big man” who carried Carol Glover out of the train.

“My wife drives to work. She used to drop me off at the Eisenhower Avenue station in Virginia. Now I drive to Suitland to catch the shuttle bus that takes me to my job. I like getting to work at 7 or 7:30 in the morning at the latest. Now I can’t get in any earlier than 9. It’s changed everything.

“I’ve been working downtown for over 13 years, and for over 13 years I’ve been riding the train. I’m not riding the subway anymore. I had some early warning signs. About a month before the incident took place, I got stuck in a tunnel. And about a month before that, someone got sick on one of the platforms and I was stuck in the tunnel on the train again. I just can’t deal with any more tunnels or any more trains. It’s just too unpredictable.

“[After the smoke incident] I was lost. I couldn’t sleep at night. I still have problems sleeping now. Sometimes I get into bed at 9:30 and I’m up by 12:30 or 1, and I can’t sleep. I’ll leave the bedroom so I don’t disturb my wife. I don’t want to get addicted to the sleeping pills, so I don’t take them every day. But I relive it every day.

“A lot of people don’t even know that I’m the quote-unquote ‘big guy.’ It’s not something I like to talk to people about.”

Paul Rankin

A chronic asthmatic, Rankin didn’t usually commute by train.

“I’ve been stuck on the train before, and there was a little smoke before. I think it came from the brakes. The train stopped for maybe five minutes, and you could smell the brakes of the train—you know, like when you smell the brakes on a car when they’re fresh. I never really paid any mind to it. This time, though, I knew it wasn’t brakes. I knew it was an electrical fire because I do electrical work. I knew it was metal burning. I’ve never been in a tunnel more than maybe ten minutes. Then all of a sudden, that ten minutes rolled by. And then 15. And then 20. And the smoke was rolling in.

“I hadn’t had an asthma attack in so long. I didn’t have my inhaler on me. I happened to ride the Metro, and sure enough, it happened. To be honest, I don’t think an inhaler would’ve helped, with how much smoke was in the car.

“I get flashbacks from time to time. Every time now that I have issues breathing, it throws me back to the Metro incident where I couldn’t breathe at all. I get pushed back to that tight feeling. I tell my friends all the time not to ride it. I can’t really tell my mom. She’s a government worker, and she rides it daily and doesn’t drive. I tell her to be careful. She says to me when they have issues on the train, she starts to think and she gets nervous. When my friends—like whenever we try to go to Nationals games or Wizards games and they say we should Metro, I say no, I’ll meet you there. I’d rather drive and park. I’m not going in a tunnel again.”

Related: The Infuriating History of How Metro Got So Bad

Jackie Collins

The former Red Cross volunteer was one of several passengers who administered CPR to Carol Glover.

“I used to ride into work on Metro, from Springfield to DC. I felt comfortable enough to sleep on Metro. [On January 12] I was in the very first car. I saw an ominous plume of smoke go past. These guys were cursing and screaming at the intercom to let us out. It was almost like you’d think hell would be, with the smoke and people trying to get out. I went through the door to the second car. Someone yelled, ‘We have a woman in need of medical attention!’ I can only imagine that if I had gotten through to the second car faster . . . . I don’t know. Who knows?

“We were taking turns trying to help the lady. I got on top of her and positioned my hands and started chest compressions while an older gentleman gave her breaths. When I ran out of energy, I moved off and there was a younger guy who started doing it. As they were carrying her out, I was trying to share with them that she still needed breaths while they were transporting her. I was taught you still need to keep performing CPR as you’re moving someone. Then I was watching one of the news clips and I heard my voice saying, ‘She needs air.’ I was like, oh, I probably didn’t say it right. Maybe if I had said she still needs air while you’re moving her. I’m just second-guessing myself, trying to think: What could we have done?

“Since the incident, I have been waking up at 3 in the morning to drive in with my husband. We leave the house at 4:30 to get my husband to work. He checks in at 5:20 or so, then he drives me to DC and drops me off at my job at the Department of Education. I work until 3 p.m., and he’s there to pick me up after he gets off.”

This article appears in our December 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.

Staff Writer

Michael J. Gaynor has written about fake Navy SEALs, a town without cell phones, his Russian spy landlord, and many more weird and fascinating stories for the Washingtonian. He lives in DC, where his landlord is no longer a Russian spy.