Man Shoved onto Tracks of NYC Subway; Suspect Apprehended, but Could Anyone Have Saved the Victim?

A murder in city's busy subway system would have been avoided, some say, if a photographer had done more to help

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REUTERS / Handout

Two men are seen talking on a New York City subway platform in this framegrab from a video released by the New York City Police.

The fact that a man was pushed onto New York City subway tracks, then struck by an oncoming train is horrific enough. But many are now critical about a photo of the incident published on the front page of the following morning’s New York Post, and even asking why the photographer did not help the man as he struggled to escape certain death.

Police say that Ki Suk Han, a 58-year-old married father from Queens, N.Y., was pushed off the platform by a man with whom he was having an argument. Witnesses say the assailant may have been mentally disturbed because he had been panhandling and harrassing passengers who had been waiting on the platform at Seventh Avenue and 49th Street, just north of Times Square.

Han is seen on a surveillance video released by the New York Police Department being cursed at by the suspect at about 12:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. Moments later, they say, the man pushed him on the tracks.

“As he attempted to climb out of the well, he was struck by the train and got wedged between the platform and the train car,” police spokesman Paul Browne told the New York Times. A doctor who had been on the platform attempted to save him, but to no avail. Although the suspect seemed to be aggressive in the station, at least one witness told the New York Post that Han approached him. Han’s wife later said that the couple had quarreled earlier and police say that a bottle of vodka was found on his body, according to the Post.

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Freelance Post photographer R. Umar Abbasi, who was at the scene, shot a photo that showed Han trying to climb onto the platform moments before he was struck; the image made the front page of Tuesday’s New York Post with the headline DOOMED. But Abbasi is now facing criticism from those who feel that rather than shooting a photo, he could have helped the man before he was killed — although it is not clear if that was possible. The Post said Abbasi was not strong enough to pull Han off the tracks off himself and instead began to flash his camera to alert the motorman to stop, which he could not given the speed of the arriving train. However, the platform did have several people who were there after Han was pushed.

Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor at the New York Times, tweeted somewhat critically that the Post photo “grimly captures moment before man is struck by subway after being pushed onto tracks.” Others were angrier. Huffington Post blogger Hina Ansari tweeted directly to the Post’s editors:


However, others defended the photographer. Nina Berman, an associate professor of photojournalism at the Columbia Journalism School in New York City, told USA Today that in such a situation, “it’s convenient to blame the photographer” for not taking enough action to help, but he was no more or less culpable than the rest of the bystanders. “What about all the other people there who you don’t see in the frame?” she asks. “I bet the photographer is traumatized,” Berman added. “He’s a witness to a death, and he is vilified.”

Police say they have a suspect in custody in the grisly death. Investigators “saw [the suspect’s] image at various locations and found people who knew him,” said Police spokesman Browne, according to the New York Times. Police are now looking for more witnesses to the incident; Browne said the department would not release the name of the suspect “until a lineup is done.”

The incident is not the first time someone has been pushed to the subway tracks in New York City. Several have taken place in recent years, at least one fatally. Kendra Webdale was pushed onto the tracks and killed in 1999 by a schizophrenic man who later pleaded guilty to murder. Recently, another woman was pushed to the tracks in the Bronx, but witnesses pulled her off before a train could harm her, the Times reported.

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