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Subway Train-Related Fatalities in New York City: Accident Versus Suicide

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 54 Issue: 6 Dated: November 2009 Pages: 1414-1418
Peter T. Lin, M.D.; James R. Gill, M.D.
Date Published
November 2009
5 pages
This analysis of the characteristics of 211 subway train-related fatalities in New York City between January 1, 2003, and May 31, 2007, focused on the identification of factors that are useful in differentiating accidents from suicides.
The study found that 111 cases were certified as suicides, 76 as accidents, 20 undetermined, and 4 as homicides. Eyewitness accounts were found to be the most useful factor in determining the manner of subway train-related deaths. A detailed eyewitness description of a descedent jumping into the path of a train or lying down on the tracks is compelling evidence of suicidal intent in most circumstances. The finding that suicide had a higher rate of eyewitness accounts than accidents may be a reflection of the requirement to demonstrate intent in order to certify a death as a suicide. Without evidence of clear suicidal intent, these deaths typically would be certified as accidents or cause undetermined. A suicide note also provides compelling evidence of suicidal intent; however, a suicide note was found in only 6 percent of the suicides. This may be a reflection of the impulsiveness of these suicides. A history of psychiatric illness may also help differentiate between suicide and accident. A history of depression and/or an unspecified psychiatric illness was more commonly identified in suicides than accidents. A history of substance abuse was more common in accidents. A likelihood that the decedent was delusional and psychotic may not meet the definition of suicide (intent to die), and may be more properly certified as an accident or undetermined. Also, certain physical injuries such as decapitation and torso transection were more indicative of suicide. Toxicology results, particularly the detection of ethanol and cocaine, tended to be associated with accidental deaths. Age and sex were not helpful in distinguishing between accidental and suicidal deaths. 3 tables, 4 figures, and 16 references