A subway reality: Corpses sometimes kept in break rooms

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s a largely overlooked but gory reality of the New York City subway system: When someone takes their life by jumping in front of a train, police need to find a place to put the mutilated body until a medical examiner truck arrives.

Sometimes, transit workers say, that place is their break room or bathrooms. And naturally, they don’t like it. Some say they have been traumatized by unexpectedly coming upon a stowed body.

“The subway isn’t supposed to be New York City’s temporary morgue,” Transit Workers Union International President John Samuelsen said.

In one of the latest cases, the body of a man found on a Manhattan subway train — after possibly dying of natural causes — was bagged and stashed in an out-of-service employee bathroom.

Authorities had no word on how long the man’s body was there. But station agents claim it can take hours before bodies are moved from employees-only areas, increasing the odds they’ll stumble upon them, said TWU Local 100 representative Derick Echevarria.

Workers have been “surprised and shocked by this,” Echevarria said. “These are places where people take breaks, eat food, store their clothes.”

The union has received about a dozen complaints in the past year, including some alleging workers were exposed to messy remains, union officials say. Local 100 said the complaints go back years.

In the past, “people have complained about it and nothing was ever done” station agent Theresa Green told the Chief, a union newspaper. “I saw this on April 7, 2008 when someone committed suicide in (a Brooklyn station), and it still goes on because this is their procedure.”

The MTA and the New York Police Department doesn’t deny workers have occasionally encountered the body bags. But they deny suggestions that it’s the result of an increase in suicides in the subways or longer response times by the medical examiner’s office.

The annual number of deaths of all kinds in the subways have held steady — there were about 50 last year — in an era of record ridership. And authorities say the average medical examiner response times are actually down so far this year by a half hour compared to same period last year, to slightly under two hours.

Police protocols call for officers to bag bodies, remove them to an area away from public view, preferably a utility room, and keep watch until they’re removed from the premises. The process can take more time if the victim dies on the tracks because that requires Emergency Service Unit officers to respond.