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Motorman Says He Drank, Slept at Subway Controls : Manhattan: Court documents describe operator’s actions before train derails, killing five. Alcohol is only drug found in his blood.

From Associated Press

The operator of a speeding subway train said he had been drinking and was falling asleep at the controls just before the train derailed, killing five people, according to court documents released Thursday.

Robert Ray, 38, was arraigned on five counts of second-degree manslaughter and was ordered held without bail. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.21%, twice the legal limit, according to tests taken about 13 hours after the accident.

Police reported earlier that a vial with traces of cocaine was found in the motorman’s cab, but they said tests showed no trace of drugs other than alcohol in his blood.

The transport union representing Ray announced that it will agree to random drug and alcohol testing in an effort to restore confidence among riders after the worst accident in 63 years in the nation’s largest subway system.

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At least 133 passengers of the approximately 500 people aboard the train were injured in the Wednesday accident, which sheered off part of the first car, folded the third car around a wall and derailed several other cars. An additional 126 people, including rescue workers, were treated at the scene.

The National Transportation Safety Board completed its on-site investigation Thursday but will not issue a final report for at least seven months, a spokesman said.

Ray told police he had been drinking before work and was falling asleep as he operated the 10-car train, which crashed when it switched from the express to the local track at the Union Square station in Lower Manhattan, according to the complaint that charged him with manslaughter.

The motorman told police he “consumed alcohol prior to his operation of said train and was falling asleep as he operated the train prior to the crash,” the complaint said.

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Ray also said the train was traveling about 35 to 45 m.p.h. when it crashed, according to the complaint. Steven Blakely, acting general superintendent of the TA’s Rapid Transit Department, said the speed limit where the derailment occurred is 10 m.p.h.

According to the police complaint, the train’s conductor, David Beerem, told police Ray was operating the train at a speed “far in excess of a safe speed” when it made the track change and crashed. Beerem also said that Ray had been operating the train erratically before the crash, overshooting two stations in the Bronx.

Sonny Hall, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said his union was willing to accept random drug and alcohol testing to offset “the perception of substance abuse among transit workers.” He said he plans to propose testing to Metropolitan Transportation Authority head Peter Stangl.

The Transit Authority tests employees when they are hired, for any promotion, as part of their regular physical checkups and when an accident or “any incident warrants it,” said Bob Previdi, a transit spokesman.

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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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