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Trolley operator dies after collision in Newton

By Noah Bierman, Ralph Ranalli, and James Vaznis
Globe Staff / May 28, 2008
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NEWTON - An outbound Green Line trolley crowded with rush-hour passengers slammed into the back of a second trolley along an idyllic stretch of track in Newton yesterday evening, a collision that caused the two trains to derail, threw commuters from their seats, and killed the MBTA operator who was driving the second train.

The father of the operator identified her as Terrese Edmonds, 24, of Boston, who had been on the job since August. Rescuers early this morning extricated her body from the wreckage about seven hours after the crash. A medical examiner had declared her dead at the scene.

"My daughter died," her father, Terry Jones, said in an interview. "I have to go."

Earlier, Jones recalled how he used to bring his daughter lunches during her break, saying: "She loves the T. She said she was having a lot of fun and meeting a lot of interesting people."

The accident resulted in one passenger being flown to Boston Medical Center with serious injuries, said Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Six others were taken by ambulance to nearby Newton-Wellesley Hospital with serious injuries not believed to be life-threatening. Five passengers were treated at the scene for cuts and bruises. Others walked away, some bleeding, only to wander into hospitals on their own.

Passengers on the train described how the routine of an evening commute was disrupted by the crash and transformed into fear and chaos.

The crash happened at about 6 p.m. The pair of two-car trolleys were heading outbound from Boston, near the end of the D branch in Newton. The first trolley was stopped at a red signal, just before Woodland Station. It was hit from behind by the second train. Edmonds was at the front of the second train, which bore the brunt of the impact.

"We were stopped, and all of a sudden we got hit from behind," said Matt Stone, 46, an accounting manager from Framingham who was sitting in the first car of the first trolley, on his way to pick up his car at the Riverside station. "There was no warning, nothing. There were two separate impacts: The first knocked me off my seat; the next knocked me across the aisle."

"It was like an accordion, the two front ends squished together," said Joyce Friedman, a resident of Dorset Road, which is along the tracks, who witnessed the accident's aftermath.

One woman who was standing "got thrown back about 20 feet," said Frank Lam, a commuter from Natick who was on the same trolley as Stone.

Stone said there was chaos briefly.

"There was a 70-year-old guy who went ballistic screaming at the conductor, 'You killed my wife! You killed my wife!' And the wife is going, 'I'm OK! I'm OK,' " he said.

Lam said passengers were initially shocked and urged each other to wait for help. But then they saw a fire behind them, which turned out to be a small brush fire, and they rushed off the trolley. Lam walked back to the second trolley and saw blood on the seats. Then he saw Edmonds.

"The whole cabin wrapped around her," he said. "All I saw was a T blue shirt."

Lam was among many passengers who were able to walk away on their own, getting their cars at nearby stations.

Daniel A. Grabauskas, MBTA general manager, extended his condolences from the T to Edmonds's family and he wished a quick recovery to the injured during a press conference at 1:15 this morning.

"It's a miracle more people were not hurt," he said. He declined to discuss specifics of the crash.

After the crash, rescue workers had clustered around the smashed trolley cars, helping injured people onto stretchers. Others worked feverishly to try to free Edmonds.

Between the two trains, about 200 passengers had been on board when the crash happened. Several witnesses were surprised that so many people walked away unharmed.

Jack Condon, 74, a resident of Dorset Road, said: "I was going for a walk and I heard a crash and I said, 'Uh-oh, this is a bad one.' And then I heard what I thought were a couple of explosions, or at least they sounded like they were explosions."

He said he thought it might be a car accident on nearby Route 128, and then he saw "all the ambulances, and that's when I knew it was a train."

Steve Cadrain, who also lives nearby, said he ran down to the accident site, jumped a fence, and boarded one of the trolleys.

"I went on the train," he said. "There was one woman who was bleeding."

He said he saw a female conductor walking off the trolley, "looking for a friend." He said he thought she might have been looking for another operator.

Friedman, also a neighborhood resident, said neighbors offered to open up their houses to victims, but none took advantage of the offer.

The MBTA shut down part of the D branch after the crash, offering shuttle bus service between Reservoir and Riverside stations. The T expects that busing will continue during this morning commute between the Newton Highlands and Riverside stops.

Workers were still clearing debris from the tracks early this morning.

"This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the family of Ms. Edmonds," Newton Mayor David Cohen said.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the federal agency is sending 10 investigators to probe the crash. They are expected to produce a final report in 12 to 18 months.

"Anytime there's an accident of this nature and this seriousness, where the . . . trains have actually collided with each other, that's a very substantial safety issue, and we need to understand how that happened," Knudson said in a telephone interview last night.

The accident occurred only one day after two subway stations on the Red Line were evacuated when a small electrical fire broke out on tracks just outside Downtown Crossing, creating a major disruption for commuters.

Recently, a Green Line trolley on the B branch derailed and caught fire on May 14 on Commonwealth Avenue near Chestnut Hill Avenue, disrupting service and damaging the trolley and track but resulting in no injuries.

In February, a passenger was injured when a Green Line trolley collided with a truck on the B Line at Commonwealth Avenue near Cummington Street. In December, a trolley crashed into another at Boylston Station, leaving nine people with minor injuries.

In September a trolley and a flatbed truck collided near Coolidge Corner, leaving the truck driver and three passengers with minor injuries. Two trolleys collided in a rear-end accident on the Green Line between the Copley and Arlington stations on July 7, 2005, injuring three people.

James Vaznis, Michael Levenson, Rachana Rathi, and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Jillian Jorgensen, John Guilfoil, and Matt Collette contributed to this report.