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Subway Motorman Charged With Manslaughter in Five Deaths

August 29, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ A subway motorman who passengers said took a train on a hurtling, white- knuckle ride before it crashed, killing five people, was charged with manslaughter. Police said they believe he was drunk.

Robert Ray, 38, fled after the crash early Wednesday and was picked up at home five hours later. His blood-alcohol level more than 13 hours after the crash was 0.21 percent, police said. In New York, 0.10 is considered legally drunk. He was ordered held without bail today.

New York Newsday, citing anonymous police sources, reported today that Ray had gone on an all-day drinking binge Tuesday because he was depressed over his former girlfriend’s refusal to let him see their two children.

″I’ve been drinking all day and fell asleep at the wheel,″ the newspaper quoted Ray as telling police.

A crack vial containing traces of cocaine was found in the motorman’s compartment on the train, but it wasn’t immediately known if the container was his, police said. Ray was given a drug test; results were expected today at the earliest.

At least 133 people were injured - 20 seriously - when the Brooklyn-bound Lexington Avenue train derailed near a lower Manhattan station, trapping riders in a hot, smoky tunnel. It was the city’s worst subway accident in 63 years.

Ray was ordered held without bail when he appeared this morning before Criminal Court Judge Martin H. Hershey in Manhattan, said Colleen Roche, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. He was not required to enter a plea.

He was arraigned on five counts of second-degree manslaughter, she said. His next court date is Tuesday.

″Please let us not suggest that crackheads are driving the trains in New York,″ Mayor David Dinkins said Wednesday, responding to questions about drug use among Transit Authority employees. ″We’ve got enough problems as it is.″

In the wake of the crash, Sonny Hall, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said today that his union was willing to accept random drug testing to offset ″the perception of substance abuse among transit workers.″

Ray, who was not hurt, told police he drank three beers after the accident. But Police Commissioner Lee Brown said investigators believe he was drunk at the time of the crash, based on the alcohol test and reports that the train was speeding and overshot several stops.

Ray was charged with five counts of manslaughter and jailed for an arraignment.

The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The train was going about 50 mph - five times the posted limit - when it derailed, said Edward Plasberg of the state Public Transporation Safety Board.

The speed was estimated based on the wreckage, including the fact that part of the sheared lead car hurtled at least 150 feet down the track.

The train’s conductor and an off-duty TA employee both told Ray to slow down along the route, said Chief of Detectives Joseph Borrelli.

Several stops before the crash, the motorman ″let two cars from the front pass the platform and opened the doors. But there was nothing, no platform,″ said passenger Jerry Yambl, 22, of Fort Sill, Okla.

″This guy never slowed down,″ said passenger Olalekan Ogundele, 31, of Brooklyn.

TA spokeswoman Caren Gardner said about 500 passengers were aboard when the 10-car train crashed at 12:10 a.m. just north of the Union Square-14th Street station, a major transfer point. Five cars left the tracks.

The first one struck a steel pillar, tearing off most of the top of the car; the motorman’s compartment - at the front of that car - was left intact.

The third car was split in half; others overturned in a twisted pile of steel tangled up in the tunnel’s support beams.

″I couldn’t even tell where one car ended and another began at some points,″ said paramedic Garrett Doering.

″When the lights went off, smoke started coming into the car. Everyone got hysterical. I thought I was dead,″ said passenger Gilbert Asante, 24, a tourist from Ghana. He suffered a minor leg injury.

TA President Alan Kiepper said Ray was hired in 1983. He passed two drug tests: when he was promoted to motorman in 1988, and after he ran a signal on Jan. 15, Kiepper said. Ray was suspended for three days without pay for running the signal, the TA chief said.

The police commissioner said Ray has a ″minor disciplinary record, which includes lateness, absence and sleeping on duty.″ Ray had no criminal record, he said.

It is against TA rules for the motorman to leave the scene of an accident, Kiepper said.

Authorities said it would be several days before the Lexington Avenue IRT, the system’s second-busiest line, is running again. Sixteen people died and about 100 were injured when a subway derailed at Times Square in 1928. New York’s worst subway disaster was in 1918, when a train derailed at a tunnel entrance in Brooklyn, killing 97 people and injuring about 100.

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