City Desk

Metro Crash Death Count: WTF

So how did the Red Line metro crash death toll jump to nine last night then fall back to seven this morning and then back up to nine? Last night, City Desk reported that three news outlets—WUSA9, WTOP, and WJLA—had confirmed that nine had died in the crash. WTOP cited the D.C. Fire Department as its source. WJLA had cited Metro.

This morning, Fenty stated that the number of confirmed dead was actually seven. That number soon increased back up to nine.

At least one fire department official is trying to figure out how and why there was so much confusion. One reporter City Desk contacted speculates that it may have to do with just the gruesomeness of the scene.

Deputy Fire Chief Kenneth Crosswhite says the death toll should not have gone up to nine last night. "I don't know how that number got out there," he says. "I'm very disappointed. We had no idea that there was nine. I called the command post and said, 'Are we at nine?' They said, 'No, we're at six.'... [They said] we have not recovered any more bodies."

Crosswhite is trying figure out who leaked the increased death toll last night. "Maybe you could help me out," he says. "Where should I look? I talked to Metro's PIO and I talked to NTSB, their PIO. I don't know where that number came from. If you find out please let me know so it doesn't happen again."

The Fire Department's own spokesperson, Alan Etter, says he isn't the source for last night's number. "I didn't talk to anyone at all last night," he says. "Nor did I get any new information—they might have talked to someone at the scene."

Dave Statter, the runs the STATter 911 blog and is a reporter with WUSA, says it may have come down to body parts. "My impression is that last night's information which came from sources around 11:20 PM was based on what the camera saw or parts of bodies being seen," Statter says via e-mail. "They had not gotten to those bodies in time for the 8:00AM press conference so the official count was left at 7. After the press conference access was made and five bodies came out bring the official toll to 9."

Councilmember Jim Graham appears to side with Statter for an explanation on the confusing death toll numbers. "I think it has to do with the way the car was crushed," he says. "There was a lot of uncertainty about what was in that crash. That's just pure guess work on my part having been on the scene."

Graham says he plans on asking about the death toll issue at this afternoon's Metro Board hearing on yesterday's crash.

*photo by Darrow Montgomery

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