Documents: Victim staggering before People Mover death

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A Detroit People Mover train continued on its route for nearly 15 minutes after a 53-year-old man fell to his death on the tracks, according to documents released by the city.

Michael Travis Whyte of Detroit was hit by at least two trains after he fell between two cars May 15, according to the documents released through the Freedom of Information Act. The Detroit Police Department notified People Mover staff after witnesses called to report a body on the track.

Whyte fell as he attempted to board the train at the Times Square Station around 8:36 p.m., officials said.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said Whyte died of multiple injuries and ruled it an accidental death. An autopsy report is pending. Officials are awaiting toxicology results, which can take up to eight weeks.

The People Mover at the Times Square station in Detroit.

The fully automated light-rail system is monitored by “closed-circuit TV cameras, push-to-talk voice communication equipment and voice monitoring capability,” according to the People Mover brochure. The trains travel on an elevated, single-track loop through the city’s central business district.

Detroit Department of Transportation Director Dan Dirks directed questions about the incident to the People Mover administration.

“There’s an active investigation going on, and they are looking into all issues,” Dirks said.

Ericka Alexander, spokeswoman for the People Mover, said she could not comment due to the active investigation. She also could not provide a timeline for when the investigation would be completed.

Two passengers, ages 16 and 17, reported seeing a body on the rail that appeared to have been struck by another train, according to the documents.

The teenagers said they got off the train to get a closer look at the body and asked a woman to call police because they did not speak English well. According to documents, police received the call around 8:43 p.m. and, by 8:50 p.m., were on the scene and notified People Mover staff to shut down the system.

One witness said the train he and another witness exited dragged Whyte 5 feet along the track.

In the documents, officers describe the scene where they found Whyte’s body and clothing. He had cuts to the head, severe trauma to his abdomen, and his right leg and right hand were severed. Remains were found along the track.

Based on surveillance video, the report stated a male, believed to be Whyte, was seen at the Times Square Station waiting for a train. According to the report, the man staggered as he walked back and forth on the platform. He was also observed consuming a beverage, according to the report.

“When the train arrived, he walked toward the rear 2nd car of the train as if he was boarding and he then disappeared and the train left the station,” police wrote in their report. “It appeared that the black male fell between the two cars that make up the train.”

Following the May 15 incident, the Federal Transit Administration’s safety office determined that the local investigation was sufficient and that it did not need to perform its own investigation, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation, which administers the FTA’s state safety oversight of the Detroit People Mover.

According to MDOT, following the incident, Detroit People Mover staff moved its active eight rail cars to the maintenance facility for inspection and clean up. The track was also cleaned. Service resumed 21 hours, 30 minutes later.

Earlier this week, the People Mover began a scheduled two-week closure for track work and switch replacement project. The system will reopen at 6:30 a.m., June 27.

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Detroit News Staff Writers Christine Ferretti and Evan Carter contributed.