Out in the Open

The emotional aftermath of subway suicide

'They’re not thinking of the person in the train; they want whatever they are going through to end': Toronto Transit Commission worker Dave Williamson recalls his experience driving a train when a man jumped onto the tracks
In 2016, nine people died by suicide and 12 attempted suicide by jumping in front of Toronto subway trains (Lisa Bryn Rundle )

"I don't even know if he could see me, but I saw right into that guy's eyes."

Dave Williamson had been on the job at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) for just seven months when a young man jumped onto the tracks in front of the train he was operating. There was no way to stop in time, and for Dave, it was the beginning of a long process of coming to terms with what happened. 
David Williamson (Courtesy of David Williamson)

"It's weird to be at those last moments of someone's life and not know who this person was, to be such a part of this person's life — for such a brief moment — and for them to have such an impact on you."

Dave says, for many of his colleagues who experience what the TTC calls a "priority one" situation, the first response is anger. 

"This happens and lots of people get very angry. I've had friends and family get angry at him for me and I told them that's not necessary. He was either going through so much stress or he had some sort of psychological issue. In their mind they're not thinking about the person on the train. They just want whatever they are going through to end and it's just sad. You just have to feel sad for them."

Dave feels for that young man, and for those who loved him. He also knows that it's not just the person operating the train who is affected. He remembers hearing screaming from the platform from a woman who had seen the man jump. He still thinks about her and hopes that she's OK. 
These posters can be found in many TTC stations around Toronto. (Lisa Bryn Rundle)

For Dave, the key is talking honestly and openly about what happened.

"One of the best things is to talk to to other people that go through the same thing and realize you're not the only one going kind of crazy in your head. Everyone else is dealing with it."

Dave still works at the TTC — he's been on the job three years now. He's just been promoted to supervisor, and truly loves his work. But he also knows that he might have to face yet another "priority one". (In fact, he knows people who've had many over the years.) The idea that it might happen again is one of his worst fears.

"I don't ever, ever want to see that again," he says. "After the incidents I've dealt with before, I think I'm better prepared to deal with it. I don't ever want it to happen again. But it's just something I have to accept."

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