WASHINGTON – The train operator killed this week in a Washington commuter rail crash was a hero who saved lives, the Metro transit agency's general manager said Friday.
John Catoe told relatives, friends and colleagues who gathered at a Washington church that 42-year-old Jeanice McMillan was not just doing her job when she was operating the train. He called her a hero and said her actions "ultimately saved lives."
Federal investigators have said McMillan applied an emergency brake before her train plowed into another, killing her and eight passengers. The crowd stood and clapped and cheered after Catoe's comment.
Hundreds attended the memorial service at the Temple of Praise in southeast Washington. D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty was there, as were many Metro employees, wearing their uniforms and black arm bands.
Also Friday, agency officials said they have temporarily reassigned the superintendent of the automatic control system that is supposed to prevent train crashes.
Monday's crash was the deadliest in Metrorail's 33-year history, when a train plowed into another that was stopped. The moving train was operating in automatic mode, which means it was primarily controlled by a computer.
Matthew Matyuf, who led the Automatic Train Control Division, has been temporarily assigned to a "special project," Metro officials said. They would not elaborate on what that project was.
The reassignment is not an indication of any wrongdoing, spokeswoman Candace Smith said.
"It's not meant to be a negative reflection on him at all," Smith said. "It's just a precaution until the investigation is complete."
Matyuf has worked for the transit agency for more than 20 years, Smith said.
Federal investigators said Thursday that Metro's signaling system failed to detect a test train stopped in the same place as one that was struck during this week's deadly crash.
Test results indicate the oncoming train involved in Monday's crash may have lacked information that another train was stopped on the tracks ahead. About 70 people were injured.