A Metro Red LIne train departs the Hollywood and Highland Station. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Authorities say they have obtained surveillance video footage that might identify the man who fatally stabbed a fellow passenger on the Metro Red Line train on Friday evening, the first slaying to occur on the Los Angeles subway since it began operation in 1993.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which patrols the area's public transit system, also appealed to the public Saturday for information on the killer, who bolted from the train at the Hollywood and Vine station about 7:30 p.m.
The attack, which played out before a handful of witnesses, including a Los Angeles Times journalist, sent passengers scurrying to the rear of the rolling subway car as the victim, Jesse Garay, 59, of North Hollywood, collapsed, his blood pooling on the floor. The killer had been arguing with Garay, and was reportedly advised by a pair of young female passengers on how he should escape capture by authorities.
"It was actually really depressing to me," said Times music writer Todd Martens. Although the women did not appear to know the man, "they advised him how to get out of there," Martens said.
Detectives are hopeful that the upscale businesses in the area, including the new W Hotel, have up-to-date security cameras that captured clear images of the fleeing man. The stabber was described as Asian, in his 20s, with an acne-scarred face. He was carrying two skateboards, authorities said.
Martens, who was taking the subway home from work, said the young man and Garay were standing near a door on the crowded, rush-hour train. An argument broke out, he said, and the older man began flailing a chain attached to a jacket or bag.
"He wasn't hitting [the young man], he wasn't punching or fighting, he was waving his arms in a really fast motion," Martens recalled. "It just wasn't a normal way to fight somebody.... He seemed a little left of center."
The young man took a few steps backward and pulled a knife from inside his jacket, Martens said. Authorities allege that he hit Garay in the head with a skateboard and then stabbed him in the chest. Passengers, including a father and his crying son, rushed to the back of the train as blood began running down the center aisle, Martens said.
The train stopped and the conductor came back to the passenger area and appeared to try to staunch the wound, Martens said. He then returned to his cab and the train started up again.
The assailant followed the passengers to the back and slumped to the ground, pleading with them to back up his story that the attack was in self-defense.
"He said, 'I can't believe he made me do that,' " Martens said. " 'Everybody saw it, it was self-defense right?' "
When none of the passengers answered, the young man began lamenting that there was no way to elude capture because police would be waiting when the train pulled into the station. The two young women said otherwise, Martens recalled.
" 'You don't know that,' " Martens quoted the women as saying. " 'Keep it together, you have to be ready.' ... They were giving him a pep talk."
At the women's suggestion, the assailant pulled a bright blue T-shirt out of his canvas bag and exchanged it for his bloodied gray one, Martens said. There were no deputies outside when the train stopped, he added. The young man ran west on Hollywood Boulevard, authorities said.
Martens said he waited for five minutes then left when police still failed to appear.
Sheriff's Lt. John Hocking said it was too early in the investigation to say whether the stabbing was in self-defense. "Investigators want to talk to anybody who witnessed the stabbing or can help with the investigation in any way," Hocking said. Anyone with information is asked to contact the homicide bureau at (323) 890-5500.