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Family IDs man who died on Metro

[This post has been updated]

4:30 p.m. Update: Rickey Jay Van Houter, 52, of Rockville died Monday on a Red Line train while on his way to work. His family confirmed Wednesday that he left home headed to his job as a computer programmer for a government contractor. His wife, Ilene, told the Post that Mr. Van Houter had been up late the night before working on a project, which delayed his morning commute.

A Metro employee discovered Mr. Van Houter on a Red Line train at the Shady Grove Metro Station Monday afternoon. Mr. Van Houter had boarded the Red Line at Twinbrook Station, shortly after 10 a.m., Metro officials said. The train he was on traveled to Silver Spring Station, returned to Shady Grove and was taken out of service and moved to the rail yard shortly before noon. About 3 p.m., the train was was being placed back into service, and a Metro operator discovered Mr. Van Houter unconscious. Emergency officials pronounced him dead after 3:30 p.m.

The family requested that an autopsy not be performed because of religious reasons.

Ilene Van Houter said the family was notified of her husband's death by Metro Transit Police about 7:20 p.m. Monday.

According to Metro officials both operators are back at work Wednesday afternoon.

"Our review concluded that they conducted themselves in accordance with our practices and procedures," said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

-- Katherine Shaver

[This post has been updated]

Two Metro operators have been placed on administrative leave while the transit agency investigates the death of a man who boarded a Red Line train Monday and was not discovered for five hours.

Metro also announced that following the incident operators are now required to walk through every car of each train that is brought into a rail yard at the end of the line to ensure that no one is left onboard, spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said. Previously no walk-through was required.

One of the men placed on leave operated the train, which left the Shady Grove station Monday at 10:11 a.m., turned around at Silver Spring and returned to Shady Grove shortly before noon. The operator was required only to do a visual inspection of the train from the platform, and reported that no one was was on board.

Another operator then drove the train into the rail yard. The train was out of service until 2:55 p.m, when a third operator found the man slumped in his seat, and Metro called emergency officials. The second operator was not required to walk through the train when it entered the yard, officials said.

-- Lisa Rein

By Michael Bolden  |  May 19, 2010; 12:55 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety  
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Normally I'm hard on Metro employees but -- if there was no requirement to walk through then how is this the fault of the operator?

Sounds like a flawed policy from the top, not the bottom.

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | May 19, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

You're going to tell me not one rider saw this guy? Nice folks.

Posted by: jckdoors | May 19, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse


I was thinkingthe same thing: how could there be no requirement to go through the cars? Someone could have left a package there, a person requiring medical attention could slump over or fall to the ground, etc., etc. I'm curious what the SOP is on other systems (NY Subway, BART, etc.)

Posted by: oldtimehockey | May 19, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Paid leave, I hope. A vacation for not doing what they didn't have to do.

People are always sleeping on trains or riding from one end to the other. The only problem here is that he made it to the rail yard.

Posted by: jiji1 | May 19, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with the rest, here--I'm more than willing to jump on metro when they deserve it, but given that there was no requirement to do a walk-through, this sounds like a failure of policy at the top, not implementation at the bottom, and frankly it actually makes me angrier at metro that they seem to be making scapegoats out of two operators who didn't do anything against policy.

Posted by: Eleiana | May 19, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

It has always been a requirement to walk thru and check the cars at the end of the run..ex left behind items, sleeping passengers or unattended items after 911!!

Some Metro workers are lazy like we can find at any job including mines and not doing their jobs, that is the one of the reasons this could have happen! And it's sad that people are running from place to place and no one noticed this man.

Sad to hear this, may God Bless his Family and those that knew and loved him!

Posted by: shadon1 | May 19, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

shadon1, based on the article, the operators weren't required to do a walkthru, so I don't see how this can be their fault in any kind of way, especially if the man was slumped over/out of sight.

Not sure why you have an issue w/ passengers not noticing this as well. Everyone probably assumed the guy was asleep and went about their business. Do you veryify the status of every passenger that you see asleep on the Metro? Not to sound cold or anything, but the bottom line is; the guy died and nobody noticed. Big deal. It's not as if the metro operators or passengers killed him. Even if someone would have noticed earlier, we would still have the same result: A DEAD METRO PASSENGER.

Posted by: awill91594 | May 19, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Well maybe it will help some of the operators lose a couple of pounds....some of them definitely could use the help.

Seriously, I don't blame the operators for this one.

Posted by: xfactor211 | May 19, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

agree with shadon1...

Metro train AND bus operators are supposed to walk through the entire train to see if any one is left on the train or buses or if anything was left that may be deemed suspicious and if so that is to be reported. There is NO way a man is identified dead 5 hours after he got on the train. The train would have reached the end of the line in between that time at least twice before the operator left his duty. Ne excuse. Someone should be held accountable. But if this is not an ENFORCED rule, then is a cultural problem that is once again blowing up in Metro's media-geared faces. The management of this organization is horrible from the top to the bottom.

Posted by: cbmuzik | May 19, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Whoever had walk-through duty may have been distracted by her word-search book or her Popular Club catalog.

Posted by: RepealObamacareNow | May 19, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

To shadon1 and cbmuzik, did you even read the post? Or do you not have any reading comprehension? The post plainly states:

"The operator was required only to do a visual inspection of the train from the platform, and reported that no one was was on board."

So no, the train operators are not required to walk through the train as you both so adamantly say. They are simply required to look through the windows as they walk down the platform. If the man had been slumped over, or sitting in a seat where the view was obstructed (like the handicapped seats or a seat where there is no window), the train operator might not see anyone.

Should walking through the train become the requirement? Obviously from this situation we learn yes, it should. It’s always sad when it takes a tragedy to change a policy, but there was no fault or blame here. Here, borrow my step ladder so you can get off your high horse…

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | May 19, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Shouldn't an autopsy be done to determine when he died? If he was unconsciously riding the train for 3 hours and then died after sitting in an overheated train in a rail yard for another 2 hours, that's an actual tragedy.

Posted by: jiji1 | May 19, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

"The family requested that an autopsy not be performed because of religious reasons."

It will be good to know that his demise was by natural causes and nothing else.

Posted by: wings100 | May 19, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

How fortunate that Metro employees were previously only required to do a visual inspection from the platform! Surely, this means there is video from the platform cameras at Shady Grove of the operator doing this inspection. Has Metro examined this video already to confirm the inspection was properly conducted? Unclear.

Posted by: prokaryote | May 19, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

What is the cause of death? No autopsy? How do you know that the deceased could have been saved had he been found earlier? I take medication, work long hours at home on work projects, on occassion I have to take Metro and i am found dead on a train in the rail yard, you all better cut me up as much as you needed to determine if I had a heart attacked, choked on a piece of candy, was choked by a rider, or what ever may have caused the death! Maybe he was dying before he even left his house!

Posted by: Ross65 | May 19, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

We have a person die of apparently natural causes on a Metro train. Prior to this, as anyone who has been on a train when it is taken out of service, you know that Metro employees walk down the length of the train looking thru the windows to see if anyone is still on the train. They have been doing it this way for over 30 years. We now had a situation where this was not enough so the out-of-service procedure will be changed. No need to bash Metro.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | May 19, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

I can't wait for the next Metro announcement: "Is that your corpse? These four simple words can mean so much..."

Posted by: gbooksdc | May 19, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

it IS policy, when you place a bus "NOT IN SERVICE" to do a walk thru, to look for packages, lost & found items, and the person sleeping on the bus. . . You do not want to find the person asleep on your bus, once you have already arrived at the garage.

You are also supposed to do a walk thru, when taking the bus out of the garage, as part of your pre-trip inspection.

Posted by: Robbnitafl | May 19, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Just a Sleepy Southern Town Story of the Year, Volume 1,456.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | May 19, 2010 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Just a Sleepy Southern Town Story of the Year, Volume 1,456.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | May 19, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

If the families are requesting no autopsy after his dead because of religious reason, something must be fishy. Go check him out. Like Bett, when he died, there were speculation that he was not gay surfing the Internet for sex until the truth came out.

Posted by: camty | May 19, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

They should not have to change their procedures in hopes of catch an average of one dead passenger every 15 years. The old procedure worked fine.

Posted by: jackson641 | May 20, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Rick will be surely missed at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. He was an excellent worker and always gave his best.

It is such a shame no one noticed he had problems on the Metro. I admit in this day and age it is hard to approach someone who appears sleeping and wake them up for fear of invading their privacy.

god rest your soul buddy

Posted by: Friend11 | May 20, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

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