CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Transit Authority has fired the operator of a Red Line train that struck and killed a woman on the city’s South Side last month.
The CTA confirmed to CBS 2 Friday afternoon that the train operator had been terminated. Video obtained by CBS 2 shows the train operator looking out the window and making hand gestures in the moments before the accident.
In a statement on Friday, the CTA said:
“On Thursday, June 27, 2019, a northbound CTA train made contact with a woman in the right-of-way at the 69th Red Line station. Following an extensive investigation that involved multiple activities—interviewing employees and witnesses, reviewing available video, examining equipment, and other steps—CTA found that the train operator violated guidelines regarding train operations, including attention to duty and safe train operations.”
The victim, Felon Smith, had hopped onto the tracks to try to save a cell phone she’d dropped at the 69th Street stop. Smith was a 37-year-old mother from the South Side.
Video obtained by CBS 2 shows the train operator looking out the window and making hand gestures in the moments before the accident.
CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas pored over the alarming video Friday. It begins five minutes before Smith was struck.
CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar watched portions of the surveillance video with Brandy Martin, Smith’s sister.
“The train is in motion, and he’s looking out the window,” she said with shock.
In the video, the operator looks away for a couple of seconds, scratches his head, flips his sunglasses down and then pulls the window open.
Soon, the train comes to a stop. But after it resumes moving, the operator is still seen looking out the window.
The operator diverted his attention from the tracks for more than 20 seconds.
“I’m grateful because I get to really know what happened,” Martin said.
The following three minutes are uneventful, but after they are up, the operator is seen looking out the train window again, laughing and gesturing with his hands to passing cars on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
“He was waving ‘peace’ to the ongoing traffic; the people in the cars,” Martin said. “He was having fun.”
His hands are not even on the controls as he laughs some more and nods his head.
Around the same time, Smith goes down to the tracks to get her phone. The operator’s facial expression changes as he stands with his hands back on the train, right at the time that it hit Smith.
A few seconds later, the operator was on his walkie-talkie.
“Twelve seconds caused my whole family’s life to change,” she said.
Twelve seconds was the approximate time the conductor looked away before impact.
“As you can see, he notices he hit something. He stands up. His whole facial expressions change,” Martin said. “He could have seen my sister if he was paying attention.”
Martin said she is glad the conductor was fired.
“He was in a mental space that I don’t think no conductor should have been in – whether there’s someone on the track or not,” Martin said. “When you’re conducting a train, you’re responsible for a lot of lives.”
Meanwhile, Martin earlier said she logged onto Facebook sometime back and discovered a separate CTA surveillance video of Smith’s death was somehow leaked and was circulating online.
CBS 2 has decided to show only still frames of that video, which appeared to have come from a camera above the platform.
The platform video shows Smith climb onto the tracks to look for her phone, and about 20 seconds later, the train hits her.
Martin wonders why there weren’t any CTA or security workers able to get her off the tracks.
Following the accident, CBS 2 did discover a private security guard hired by the CTA was on the platform the entire time Smith was on the tracks.
The CTA said the guard told Smith she could not be on the tracks, but it is not clear if she heard him next to the traffic of the Dan Ryan.
The CTA also said it is impossible to tell if the train could have come stopped before hitting Smith.
Martin said she does plan on filing a lawsuit.