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One Killed, 180 Injured in New York, Boston Transit Accidents

December 29, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Panicked subway passengers screamed ″We’re going to die 3/8″ when waves of smoke filled a New York subway tunnel Friday, killing one person and injuring more than 150 others.

In Boston, a trolley car rammed into another that was unloading passengers at an underground station, injuring 33 passengers in the second rail accident this month in the city’s Back Bay section. The driver of the moving trolley tested positive for alcohol in his blood.

The New York fire - which occurred during the morning rush hour in a subway tunnel linking Manhattan and Brooklyn - apparently was triggered when melting snow caused an electrical short-circuit, according to fire and transit officials. The city got 7 inches of snow overnight.

″We really thought we were gone, that we wouldn’t see New Year’s,″ said Gertrude Hoyte, a 51-year-old Brooklyn resident who was on one of four trains trapped in the tunnel just after 9 a.m.

Passengers heard explosions and then saw smoke, first pouring into the tunnel and then into their trains.

Hoyte said some people began vomiting into their newspapers.

″People were screaming, ’We’re going to die 3/8‴ while others prayed out loud, said 28-year-old Dana Sullivan.

Andrew Rea, 29, said that as smoke began filling the train, it ″got so bad you couldn’t see halfway down the car.″

″A lot of people passed out,″ said Naomi Smalls-Watson, 23.

Witnesses said some riders considered trying to open train doors but were disuaded by fellow passengers that it would only make the smoke worse.

Transit Authority spokeswoman Caren Gardner said it was unclear exactly how snow set off the incident, but it was possible that it fell onto the electrified third rail and caused an electrical cable to short.

The dead man was identified by Transit Police spokesman Al O’Leary as Peter Hagen, 35, of Smithtown. A spokeswoman for Long Island College Hospital said he was brought in in full cardiac arrest but a medical examiner would have to determine the cause of death.

A 37-year-old woman who was thought to be dead was revived at the hospital, said hospital President Harold Light.

Authorities said 151 people were injured, including some police and firefighters. Injuries ranged from smoke inhalation to cuts and bruises.

It was unclear how many people were aboard the four trains, but Transit Police Capt. Michael Ansbro said 300 to 400 people were on the 10-car train that carried most of the injured.

Mayor David N. Dinkins, who visited the site later with fire and police officials, called it a ″tragic circumstance.″

Fire Commissioner Carlos M. Rivera, referring to the theory snow caused the electrical fire, said, ″It’s something that is beyond our control - nature does what nature wants to do.″

The section of tunnel was reopened 7 1/2 hours later.

The Boston accident occurred at 6:45 a.m. when a trolley letting off passengers was hit from behind by another trolley, said Thomas Glynn, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority general manager. Each of the one- car trolleys had about 40 people aboard.

Passenger Steve DePaula said the moving trolley was going faster than usual. Glynn said transit officials did not know how fast the second car was going.

″I was looking at the lady across from me, next thing I knew the lights went out and she was on the floor,″ said Ernest Jones, a passenger on the stationary trolley. ″I saw one man in the back on the floor on his back, crying, obviously in agony, hurt.″

The driver of the moving trolley told officials his brakes failed, Glynn said. Both operators, whose names were not released, underwent drug and alcohol tests immediately after the accident.

″The driver in the rear car, the car that did the hitting ... a 20-year veteran, was found to test positive for alcohol,″ said Peter Dimond, a transit spokesman.

The driver was suspended without pay pending the outcome of an investigation, Dimond said. He would not disclose the level of alcohol found in the 64-year-old driver’s blood.

Authorities said the other trolley driver was a 54-year-old man who has worked for the authority for 22 years.

Most of the 33 people injured were treated and released at hospitals. One person was in intensive care at New England Medical Center and another was admitted to University Hospital.

More than 260 people were injured Dec. 12 when an Amtrak train derailed in the area.

Update hourly