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Two Killed, More than 180 Injured in Northeast Transit Accidents

December 29, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Authorities blamed the first snowstorm of the season for an electrical fire that trapped four rush-hour trains in a smoke-filled subway tunnel, killing one person and injuring 150 others. A second rider died of her injuries today.

In Boston, authorities investigating a trolley accident that injured 33 people Friday said tests showed the trolley driver had high levels of alcohol in his system. It was the second rail accident this month in the city’s Back Bay section.

The driver of the trolley, which rammed a streetcar that was unloading passengers, blamed faulty brakes for the collision, officials said. But investigators ruled that out as a possible cause, said Peter Dimond, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The fire Friday morning in New York filled trains with smoke in a subway tunnel linking Manhattan and Brooklyn. Fire and transit officials said melting snow from a 7-inch snowfall overnight apparently caused an electrical short- circuit.

Passengers heard explosions and then saw smoke, first pouring into the tunnel and then into their trains.

″We really thought we were gone, that we wouldn’t see New Year’s,″ said Gertrude Hoyte, a 51-year-old Brooklyn resident trapped in the tunnel. Some people began vomiting into their newspapers, she said.

″People were screaming, ’We’re going to die 3/8‴ and others prayed out loud, said 28-year-old Dana Sullivan.

Andrew Rea, 29, said that as smoke began filling the train, it ″got so bad you couldn’t see halfway down the car.″

″A lot of people passed out,″ said Naomi Smalls-Watson, 23.

Transit Authority spokeswoman Caren Gardner said the exact cause was unclear, but that snow may have fallen onto the electrified third rail and caused an electrical cable to short.

The dead man was identified by Transit Police spokesman Al O’Leary as Peter Hagen, 35, of Smithtown. The cause of death was under investigation.

Another rider, a 37-year-old Massapequa Park woman, died this morning at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, said said nursing supervisor Adriene Kushner. She had been revived at the hospital Friday after appearing dead at the scene.

Authorities said 150 people were injured, including some police and firefighters. Injuries ranged from smoke inhalation to cuts and bruises.

Transit Police Capt. Michael Ansbro said 300 to 400 people were on the 10- car train that carried most of the injured.

Fire Commissioner Carlos M. Rivera said the accident couldn’t have been prevented. ″It’s something that is beyond our control - nature does what nature wants to do.″

Boston’s Green Line trolley crash occurred during morning rush hour when one trolley rammed the rear of a second parked in the underground Arlington Street station. Transit officials said each had about 40 people aboard.

″The driver in the rear car, the car that did the hitting ... a 20-year veteran, was found to test positive for alcohol,″ Dimond said. The 64-year- old driver, whose name was not released, was suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation, Dimond said.

Dimond declined to specify the driver’s blood-alcohol content, but said it was ″high.″ He said investigators had ruled out brake failure and the signal system as possible causes.

Ernest Jones, a passenger on the stationary trolley, said one minute he was reading his newspaper, the next the lights were out and he saw at least four people bleeding from head injuries.

″I was looking at the lady across from me, next thing I knew the lights went out and she was on the floor,″ he said. ″I saw one man in the back on the floor on his back, crying, obviously in agony, hurt.″

Most of the injured people were treated and released at area hospitals. One was seriously hurt and taken to New England Medical Center and another was admitted to University Hospital.

More than 260 people were injured Dec. 12 when an Amtrak train derailed in the area.

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