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Conductor killed in A-train accident in Ozone Park

The conductor of a northbound A train died Saturday just before 8 a.m. after her head struck a metal gate while the train was pulling out of the elevated Aqueduct/North Conduit station in Ozone Park, police and transit authorities said.

Janell Bennerson, 39, a Manhattan resident who had worked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for about a year, had stuck her head out of the conductor's window, as conductors routinely do, to check that the platform was clear and nobody was caught in the doors, or riding between cars, said co-workers.

Passengers realized that something was wrong when the train reached the next station at Rockaway Boulevard/Liberty Avenue, and the doors, which are normally opened by the conductor, did not open.

According to transit officials, Bennerson was discovered inside her conductor's compartment in a pool of blood.

"That fence is right up on the platform," said Eric, an A-train conductor who has been working for the MTA for eight years and declined to give his last name. "You're supposed to observe the platform for three car lengths or until the edge of the platform... maybe her head was just out there too long."

The black, metal fence, which is marked with a sign that says "Do not enter or cross tracks," extends to within four inches of the platform's edge and separates a dilapidated section of the platform from the section of the platform that is in use.

"I don't know why that fence was there. It certainly is a danger," said Eric. "Of course, I will be more wary now."

According to published reports, transit workers and passengers thought at first that Bennerson had been shot. When no gun was found along the tracks of the Rockaway station, or in the conductor's booth, police headed south to the Aqueduct/North Conduit station and found blood on the metal gate. They also recovered a hat, scarf, and a pair of safety goggles.

Roger Toussaint, the head of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, said that because the platform is longer than the length of the train, the fencing had been put there to prevent children from being on the edge of the platform.

"It's been there for so long, I guess everyone knows you see a big fence coming up, you back your head up," said Burdell Phinizy, an MTA employee who has been working as a conductor for 19 years.

Phinizy said conductors were taught during training to always remain alert and aware of surroundings.

"You're afraid on a daily basis because you've got people that swing at you, spit at you," said Phinizy. "I always stay cautious and follow the rule book."

The accident disrupted A-train service for a few hours, during which passengers were transported by bus.

Transit workers said the A-train that Bennerson died in is currently in the train yard, and investigation by police and MTA were ongoing.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by email at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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