Train crash victim called ‘man of honor’
June 26, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — The former head of the Washington, D.C., National Guard was one of the nine people killed in Monday’s train crash in Washington.
Retired Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr. should be remembered as "a man of honor and integrity," said Sgt. Khalia Jackson, who said he worked with Wherley on many occasions.
"He always commended those who deserved it, encouraged those who needed it, and made everyone feel welcomed and appreciated," Jackson said. "Maj. Gen. Wherley was the epitome of a leader."
Wherley’s wife, Ann, also died in the crash, which occurred when one Metro train ran into the back of another train that was stopped on the tracks.
Wherley was a "very honest, sincere and dedicated man who loved a challenge," said Barbara Wood, who worked with him at the D.C. National Guard. "He was very humble and made people feel important by really listening to what they had to say. He sincerely cared about people."
Wherley received his commission in 1969 through the ROTC program at Fordham University in New York. After leaving active duty, he joined the D.C. Air National Guard. He commanded the District’s Army and Air National Guard units for more than five years before retiring in June 1998.
The current head of the D.C. National Guard said he is "personally grieved" by the death of Wherley and his wife.
"David Wherley and Ann were two of the best people you could ever want to know," Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz said in a news release. "This community will grieve, as will the entire National Guard throughout the country who knew and loved them both."
‘It looked like a wave’
Maj. Dave Bottoms, a chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, survived the crash, he said, because he sat far enough toward the rear of the train car. Afterward, he acted quickly to comfort injured riders, refusing to leave before paramedics arrived.
"I don’t understand the mystery of how I was spared, that there’s no explanation that I know of for that, but here I am," Bottoms said on Wednesday.
He said he remembers watching the front of the car he was riding in buckle as the two trains collided.
"Seats began to topple on top of each other, metal began to crash and as I watched it was coming closer and closer to where those of us in the back were, and it looked like a wave," he said.
The "wave" stopped about three seats in front of him.
"I heard screams coming from — a woman screaming from the middle, but I couldn’t see her," Bottoms said.
He crawled toward her and started talking to her and then he and others in the car called 911.
"The young lady was obviously asking for help," Bottoms said. "She was screaming. I told her that we were there and that we weren’t going to leave her; that she wasn’t alone and that we had called the 911 and that they knew that we were — that they were in the process of coming to understand that we were stuck."
He told her to remain calm and encouraged her to pray.
Later, someone from Metro told the people inside to leave, Bottoms and the others refused to leave the injured passengers until emergency responders arrived.
"You would not have been able to have seen the young woman underneath all the seats, so if she had stopped yelling then and we had left, you wouldn’t know she was there," Bottoms said.
Bottoms and the others moved the seats until he could see the back of the woman’s head. She had a strong pulse, but she had stopped talking.
She died later.
"I’m really just heartbroken that she didn’t make it," he said. "She looked like she had a full life ahead of her."