It’s a subway rider’s worst nightmare: being pushed onto the tracks. On Monday, it happened in midtown Manhattan where, according to witnesses, one man shoved another in front of an oncoming train, which crushed the victim to death before horrified onlookers.
Police on Tuesday were still searching for the alleged pusher, who was captured on surveillance video seconds before the attack in a verbal altercation with the victim, who was identified as 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han of Queens, N.Y. The attack occurred about 12:30 p.m.
Witnesses, who included scores of people standing on the platform at the station on West 49th Street and 7th Avenue, said Han tried to scramble back onto the platform after landing on the tracks a few feet below, but he was crushed between the side of the platform and the Q train, which slammed on its brakes but could not stop in time.
One witness facing the oncoming train repeatedly snapped his camera in hopes the flash would warn the conductor early enough to stop. Others on the platform waved their hands and yelled at the conductor as Han stood up from where he had landed, faced the train then began trying to climb off the tracks as the train sped toward him.
“There was a huge gasp from all the spectators,” the man who took pictures of the incident, R. Umar Abbasi, said of the moment when he saw Han pushed, the New York Post reported. “I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash,” said Abbasi.
But the train could not stop in time. Witnesses on board heard a strange "thud" as it came into the station. As a woman on the platform tried to perform CPR on Han, the man said to have pushed him fled up the stairs and out of the station, melting into the crowds near Times Square.
A video released by police showed Han and the man engaged in an argument on the platform, but it was unclear why they were arguing. Some witnesses told police the alleged pusher had been harassing people waiting for the train and Han intervened.
The video shows a tall man wearing a knit cap and a white T-shirt, facing the much smaller Han, who is heard demanding that Han "leave me the ... alone." He points up the platform and is heard on the videotape telling Han to go and wait for his train. As the argument ensued, others on the platform moved away from the two men.
Such crimes are rare in the 24-hour subway system, which carries nearly 5.3 million riders daily.
Two other people have been pushed onto subway tracks in separate incidents earlier this year, and both survived. In a third incident, a man died after falling onto subway tracks during a fight with another subway rider. The man was hit by a train and killed.
In 1999, two high-profile pushing incidents prompted passage of a law in New York allowing courts to require that some people diagnosed with mental illnesses accept treatment and medication before being released from psychiatric facilities. Both of the 1999 incidents involved mentally ill men who had been released from hospitals without medication.
One of them, Andrew Goldstein, pushed 32-year-old Kendra Webdale in front of an N train in January 1999. Webdale was killed. Goldstein, who had been diagnosed with a mental illness but was not taking medication, eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
About three months later, another mentally ill man, Julio Perez, pushed Edgar Rivera in front of an oncoming train. Rivera, who was 37, survived, but both his legs were severed. A jury convicted Perez of attempted murder and assault.
Both incidents helped prompt passage of Kendra's Law, which was designed to ensure the mentally ill are monitored and treated before being released onto the streets after receiving psychiatric care.
[For the record, 5:37 p.m. Dec. 4: An earlier version of this post spelled the victim's name as Ki-Suk Han. Actually, it’s Ki-Suck Han.]