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Lawmakers want subway safeguards

Erika Menendez is escorted to a police vehicle in the 112th Precinct parking lot. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Two Queens city councilmen have urged the MTA to install new safety devices in the subway system after a 46-year-old man was pushed onto the tracks in Sunnyside last week as a train approached and a woman was charged with his murder as a hate crime.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Erika Menendez, 31, faces charges of second-degree murder for allegedly shoving Indian-born Sunano Sen in front of a No. 7 train as it headed into the 40th Street-Lowery Street station last Thursday. She faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

“The defendant is accused of committing what is every subway commuter’s worst nightmare — being suddenly and senselessly pushed into the path of an oncoming train,” Brown said. “The victim was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself. Beyond that, the hateful remarks allegedly made by the defendant and which precipitated the defendant’s actions can never be tolerated by a civilized society.”

After she was arrested, Brown said Menendez told investigators that she pushed Sen onto the tracks because she believed he was a Muslim and responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. She has family living in Rego Park.

Menendez allegedly told investigators, “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims. Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers I’ve been beating them up.”

According to authorities, the victim was Hindu, not Muslim.

The grisly murder occurred at the tail end of a month in which Elmhurst resident Ki-Suk Han was pushed in front of a downtown-bound Q train in Midtown Manhattan. A 30-year-old homeless man, Naeem Davis, was later arrested and charged with the crime.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) suggested the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should have cameras in all subway stations after the second man in a month was pushed to his death in Sunnyside.

“It does strike me in a post-9/11 world that there are no cameras installed in our subway system,” Van Bramer said.

Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said the MTA should think of installing a shield along all subway stops similar to ones in Taipei, China, or Singapore that would open after the train stops at the station.

“That way people cannot be pushed down the subway,” he said. “The subway will also be much cleaner.”

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz recommended straphangers stay away from the platform edges and always be vigilant about their surroundings.

A resident near a Rego Park building where Menendez’s mother and stepfather live, said he was only momentarily shocked by the defendant’s alleged actions.

“There was something a little off about her,” said Elvin Alvarez, who saw Menendez in the neighborhood, but did not know her personally. “When I first heard about this, there was some shock because it’s so horrible. But a lot of people knew she needed help. No one really trusted her.”

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said authorities were called to her home five times since 2005 and she was arrested several times on various charges, including assault.

On the night of the subway push, witnesses had reported that Menendez was walking back and forth along the platform and talking to herself before she sat down by herself on a wooden bench near the platform’s north end, Browne said.

As the train entered the station, Menendez suddenly stood up and shoved Sen in front of the train, Brown said. He was hit by the first car and trapped under the second before the train came to a full stop.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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