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 a 46-year-old New York City resident from India who worked at a printing business. They did not release his name pending notification of relatives. A police surveillance video shows the woman _ identified by witnesses _ running through a nearby intersection. Police said a $12,000 reward is being offered and they released a sketch of the suspect.
At the above-ground station in the Sunnyside neighborhood in Queens where the man died, police officers stood inside the entrance, while most riders kept closer to the walls than they otherwise might as trains rolled into the station early Friday afternoon.
Maria Roquete, 55, immediately 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 is being done to ensure safety on the subway, with one subway rider suggesting 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 mumbling to herself, suddenly pushed a man from behind who was waiting for the No. 7 elevated train to pull in to 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, NYPD 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 riders, 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 became involved in an argument with a man who had been harassing people waiting 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 and launched a media controversy over whether the photographer should have tried to help. Davis, who is homeless, has been charged with murder,
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Despite the nearly back-to-back subway pushing deaths, Pete Martinez recalled how he used to “subway surf” on top of cars while growing up in the Bronx and 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 she 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.”
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Although the two December deaths have left some subway riders frightened, such pushing incidents are considered rare in the 24-hour subway system.
Earlier this year, two people were pushed onto subway tracks in separate incidents 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.
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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.
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.
When questioned about Thursday’s incident, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, himself a subway rider, spoke about changes in mental health policy that pivoted away from locking people in mental institutions.
“It cost a lot and the trouble is you may incarcerate the handful of people who do something wrong, but you’d also incarcerate an enormous number of people who will never do anything wrong,” the mayor said on a local radio program. “And the essence of America is unless you do something wrong we don’t incarcerate you.”
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Darrin Cope, 47, was startled to learn of Thursday’s pushing death as he arrived in Sunnyside to pick up a paycheck. He’s not necessarily more nervous, he said, but in the future he won’t stand as close to the platform edge.
“It’s just going to make me more aware of my surroundings,” Cope said.