The family of a D.C. man who fell in a Metro station and suffered a fatal head injury in October 2013 has filed a lawsuit against the transit authority that alleges negligence because the man’s body went undiscovered for four days.
Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said at the time of the incident that at approximately 2:45 p.m. on October 23 officials received a report of a body behind the parapet wall on the Shady Grove platform level. Officials from D.C. Fire and Emergency Services and Metro Transit police responded to the call.
When they arrived, authorities found the body of an adult male, later identified as Okiemute C. Whiteru, 35, who was pronounced dead at the scene. At the time, Metro Transit Police tweeted that there were “no signs of foul play.”
According to the lawsuit, if Metro workers had been more alert and come quickly to the man’s aid, he might have survived.
However, a person familiar with the incident, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the pending litigation, gave a more detailed account of the 2013 incident than the version given in the lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court.
The person said that Whiteru, whose family is seeking a multimillion-dollar award, was alone and intoxicated in the Judiciary Square station late at night when he sat atop a three-foot-high wall at the rear of the platform across from a trench like well eight feet in depth running the full length of the station.
Surveillance video showed that Whiteru lost his balance and fell backward off the wall, striking his head, according to the source who has viewed surveillance video of the incident. He said that Whiteru apparently hit his head and was knocked unconscious. When he hit the bottom of the well, he rolled beneath the platform and beyond the sight of passengers and Metro personnel.
An autopsy later found that Whiteru, a lawyer who lived in Southeast Washington, was heavily intoxicated that night, the person said.
The May 1 lawsuit says the incident happened on Oct. 19, 2013, when Whiteru “lost his balance” and “fell a short distance” off an escalator in the Judiciary Square station.
The source who viewed the video said no other customers were in the station as Whiteru rode down an escalator toward the platform while struggling to stay on his feet.
Rather, the video shows him stumbling on the escalator but not falling off. When Whiteru reached the bottom of the escalator, he stood for a moment and then fell onto the platform. He had trouble getting up according to the source.
The lawsuit says that after Whiteru “fell from the escalator,” he was “attempting to collect himself” when he “fell backwards, and dropped a distance of eight feet, resulting in incapacitating injuries” offering no more details.
The person who viewed the video said the eight-foot plunge came after Whiteru, who was having difficulty standing, decided to sit atop the wall instead. With respect to Metro’s alleged negligence, The Washington Post reported that:
“…the lawsuit says that “despite actual knowledge” of Whiteru’s fall, transit employees “failed to recognize and investigate the happening of the fall, or otherwise respond to the occurrence, such that [Whiteru] remained, in his injured state, undiscovered” for four days.
Metro workers are to blame for the fact that Whiteru “succumbed to his injuries and died a tragic, painful and untimely death…”
The source said no Metro workers saw Whiteru fall and that surveillance video is only reviewed after a known incident occurs. In this case, he said, the video was not looked at it until after the body was found and an investigation was conducted.
The source told the Post “after Whiteru’s body rolled under the platform, thousands of commuters passed through the station for four days and three nights, without a report of a body. He said that each night before closing the station, a manager signed a sheet attesting that the station had been checked for any lingering people.”
Whiteru was found after someone noticed “an item” in the well that looked like clothing and decided to take a look. He was far enough beneath the platform that his body had to be removed through a platform manhole the source said.
The family’s attorney was not available for comment.