The buzzing from the helicopters began before 8 a.m. yesterday and did not stop until after dark. They were back before dawn this morning, and at this writing continue to come and go. I live within sight of Sunday’s Metro-North crash, the first incident to result in passenger fatalities in the railroad’s 30-year history.
Photo: AP via NYT
The toll from yesterday’s derailment was tremendous and awful: four people dead and 60 injured, 11 of them critically. As helicopters hovered above, an army of reporters converged at the scene. Governor Cuomo arrived well before noon. Teams of federal investigators were summoned. The train’s “black box” was recovered. Pictures and video of the wrecked train were streamed by every major news outlet in the city, and were broadcast nationwide. By day’s end there were lengthy stories from the dailies, and coverage will no doubt continue at least until the cause of the crash is known.
It’s a fitting response to a preventable crash that killed several people. What’s troubling is that the far more pervasive source of violence in our transportation system — crashes involving motor vehicles — receives such scant attention from investigators and the press in comparison.
Fatal and injurious traffic crashes happen on a scale that dwarfs train wrecks. But police investigations are kept out of view of the public, so for any given crash, there’s almost no way to tell what contributed to it and who is culpable. The Metro-North crash scene was preserved for almost an entire day; a fatal car crash is usually cleaned up as soon as possible – assuming the site is protected at all – and traffic resumes. Unless drugs or alcohol are involved, police usually call it an accident, blame the victim, and declare “case closed.”
Coverage of traffic fatalities tends to reflect the cursory attention from police investigators. While the Times, for example, assigned a cadre of reporters to the Metro-North story, which has stayed above the fold on the paper’s web site, it devoted just three paragraphs to the deaths of the three pedestrians and a cyclist who were killed by city motorists in a span of 30 minutes on the day before Thanksgiving.
At 5 p.m. last Wednesday, 54-year-old Pedro Lopez was riding a bike in Maspeth when he was hit by the driver of a commercial truck. The driver fled the scene. At 5:15, Stella Huang, 88, was run over by the driver of a Con Ed truck at 16th Street and Avenue C in Manhattan. About 15 minutes later, a man in a Honda minivan hit and killed Marion Anderson, 47, and Lizette Serrano, 60, as they crossed Forest Hill Road in Staten Island.
An Advance story about Serrano noted that by Friday NYPD had wrapped up its investigation. The driver in the Staten Island crash was cited for failure to provide insurance information but was not charged for killing two people.
Motorists killed at least two other people in the city last week: Buddhi Thapa, struck Tuesday on the Upper East Side by a driver in a Range Rover SUV; and Kalyanarat Ranasinghe, 71, a traffic agent who was hit by a truck driver in Midtown Saturday. In both cases, the driver was immediately cleared of wrongdoing by NYPD.