One strike and out

Train crash: MTA should never let operators who test positive for narcotics control buses, trains.

February 26, 2000

WOULD you step on a train if you thought Darryl Strawberry might be the conductor? Mr. Strawberry, the New York Yankees baseball player, recently failed yet another cocaine test. His is an absurd cycle of relapse, sorrow and reinstatement to the job.

Of course, Mr. Strawberry plays baseball, and there's only so much damage one can do at the plate or in the field. Were he operating a train -- say, a light rail vehicle -- while on cocaine, the results could be disastrous.

Baltimore's light rail riders have no real assurances that people like Darryl Strawberry aren't operating transit vehicles, some of which can carry hundreds of passengers.

The Mass Transit Administration tests employees for drug use -- randomly, when it has reasonable suspicion and after incidents. And when Sam Epps, a 25-year-employee, crashed his light rail train Feb. 3 while under the influence of prescription drugs, he got the boot. But there's more.

An examination after the accident showed that Mr. Epps had cocaine in his system. Sources have told The Sun that Mr. Epps tested positive for cocaine in 1994 during a random check. Incredibly, he was allowed to keep his job as a light rail operator.

Had he been fired -- or at least reassigned to a job where the public's welfare wasn't at risk -- the BWI terminal accident might not have happened and the 22 passengers aboard would not have been injured. This was an accident that could have been worse, considering that each car can hold 260 passengers and three cars can be strung together.

State transportation officials say they will explore all safety policies in light of the accident. At the top of their list should be developing a drug policy that is far tougher than baseball has been to Mr. Strawberry.

We're not talking baseball or any other game here. State officials should never let bus or train operators return to the helm once they test positive for narcotics.

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