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Anxious New Yorkers grapple with second subway death in a month

As police search for a woman witnesses say pushed a man into an oncoming train in Queens, residents react with a mix of shock, horror — and nonchalance.

December 28, 2012|By Andrew Tangel and Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times
  • A reward poster is displayed at the entrance to the subway station in Queens where a man was killed after being pushed onto the tracks.
A reward poster is displayed at the entrance to the subway station in Queens… (Seth Wenig, For The Times )

NEW YORK — As police continued searching Friday for a woman who witnesses say sent a man to his death by pushing him into an oncoming subway train in Queens, anxious New Yorkers spoke with a mix of shock, horror and nonchalance as they grappled with the second such death in a month along the city's massive transit system.

Police identified the victim in Thursday night's incident as Sunando Sen, a 46-year-old Queens resident and native of India who worked at a printing business.

Police said the woman — described as a heavyset Latina and approximately 5 feet 5 — fled after the pushing. Surveillance video recorded shortly after the incident shows a heavyset woman running through an intersection near the station platform. A $12,000 reward is being offered and police have released a sketch of the suspect.

At the above-ground station where the main died, in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens, police officers were stationed inside the entrance, while some riders said they kept closer to the walls than usual as trains rolled into the station early Friday afternoon.

Maria Roquete, 55, promptly took a seat on a wooden bench as she waited for her train.

"Even if this station is empty, I have to sit down," said Roquete, who moved to New York from Brazil 13 years ago. "I'm scared."

Other commuters questioned whether enough was being done to ensure safety on the subway. One rider suggested police should have more cameras or officers on the platforms.

Thursday's death occurred just after 8 p.m., when a woman, who witnesses said appeared to be mumbling to herself, suddenly pushed a man from behind as he waited for the No. 7 elevated train to arrive at the station, police said.

"Witnesses said she was walking back and forth on the platform, talking to herself, before taking a seat alone on a wooden bench near the north end of the platform," Paul J. Browne, the NYPD's deputy commissioner, said in a statement. "When the train pulled into the station, the suspect rose from the bench and pushed the man, who was standing with his back to her, onto the tracks into the path of the train. The victim appeared not to notice her, according to witnesses."

For some, Thursday's death on the tracks served to underscore such urban dangers, especially with a transit system that carries 5.3 million riders daily.

On Dec. 3, Ki-Suck Han was crushed by an oncoming train at a subway station in Midtown Manhattan. Han, 58, had been on his way to the South Korean Consulate to renew his passport when, witnesses said, he began arguing with a man who had been harassing people on the platform.

The man, later identified as 30-year-old Naeem Davis, is accused of pushing Han onto the tracks. Han's final moments were captured by a nearby photographer, whose picture ran on the front page of the New York Post. Publication of the photo launched a media controversy over whether the photographer should have tried to help. Davis, who is homeless, has been charged with murder,

Despite the nearly back-to-back subway deaths, Pete Martinez recalled how he used to "subway surf" on top of cars while growing up in the Bronx. He shrugged off Thursday's homicide as "everyday life in the city."

Martinez, 51, said he even witnessed a woman die on subway tracks two years ago. "Every time you leave home you're taking a chance," he said, leaning against a stairway railing as he waited for an uptown train at New York's Penn Station in Manhattan.

Others' nerves were more frayed.

"It's horrible," Elena Rodriguez, a 46-year-old accountant, said as she waited for a downtown express train on the Upper West Side. "We're feeling so insecure now to be in the subway."

Rodriguez said that one of her clients, a yoga instructor, took a cab to work Friday because of Thursday's death. And the fact that a similar death happened less than four weeks ago is making her question whether she wants to stay in New York.

"Now with this, I'm thinking twice," the Upper East Side resident said. "Do I want to risk my life living in New York? No."

Although the two December deaths have left some riders frightened, such pushing incidents are considered rare in the 24-hour subway system.

In separate incidents earlier this year, two people were pushed onto tracks, and both survived. In a third incident, a man died after falling onto tracks during a fight with another commuter. The man was struck 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 those incidents involved mentally ill men who had been released from hospitals without medication.

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