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NYC Subway Push Suspect: 'He Attacked Me'

9:48 AM, Dec 6, 2012   |    comments
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NEW YORK (USA TODAY) - While New York City subway riders pondered what they would do in a similar nightmare situation, authorities charged a homeless man in the death of a Queens resident pushed in front of an oncoming subway train and killed as onlookers watched.

"I would certainly try to do whatever I possibly could," said Denise Martorana, 34, as she waited for the "A'' train at Penn Station on Wednesday evening.

"I certainly wouldn't be able to stand there and watch, that's for sure," she said.

Naeem Davis, 30, was arraigned Wednesday night on a second-degree murder charge and ordered held without bail in the death of Ki-Suck Han, 58, on Monday. He is due back in court on Dec. 11.

As the handcuffed defendant walked past reporters he blamed the victim for what happened.

"He attacked me first. He grabbed me," Davis said.

Prosecutor James Lin told the judge that Davis saw the train strike Han before leaving the Times Square station.

"The defendant never once offered any aid to the victim as the train approached the platform and in fact, this defendant watched the train hit the victim," Lin said.

But Davis' Legal Aid lawyer, Stephen Pokart, said outside court that his client reportedly "was involved in an incident with a man who was drunk and angry."

Han's wife had said she had argued with her husband that morning and that he had been drinking. Davis has several prior arrests in New York and Pennsylvania on mostly minor charges including drug possession.

Han's death got widespread attention not only for its horrific nature, but because he was photographed a split-second before the train trapped him and seemingly no one attempted to come to his aid.

Han's only child, 20-year-old Ashley, said at a news conference Wednesday that her father was always willing to help someone. But when asked about why no one helped him up, she said: "What's done is done."

"The thought of someone helping him up in a matter of seconds would have been great," she said.

A freelance photographer for the New York Post was waiting for a train Monday afternoon when he said he saw a man approach Han at the Times Square station, get into an altercation with him and push him into the train's path.

The Post photo in Tuesday's edition showed Ki-Suck Han with his head turned toward the train, his arms reaching up but unable to climb off the tracks in time.

The Post was quickly criticized by other journalists, media industry observers and social media users as being insensitive and sensationalizing the tragic incident.

People took to Twitter and Facebook to ask why Abbasi didn't try to pull Han from the tracks instead of snapping the shots.

Abbasi told USA TODAY on Wednesday that he is confident that he could not have reached Han in time.

And he said it is very difficult to talk about the incident.

"It is hard on me. Every time I speak with someone, I relive the moment," Abbasi said. "I am reliving the pain and the sounds that are associated with this tragedy."

He expressed condolences to Han's wife, Serim, and his family. He has not contacted them.

"What am I going to say?" he asked. "That I could not save your husband?" But he does have a message for Serim:

"I'm sorry for your loss," Abbasi said, "and believe me, I would have made every effort to pull your husband off the tracks if I was close enough."

Abbasi defended his actions. In Tuesday's New York Post, he wrote, "People think I had time to set the camera and take photos, and that isn't the case."

He said he was too far away to do anything. "Why didn't the people who were close enough help him?" he asked.

Abbasi said that after the train accident, he spoke with detectives at the subway station, then went with them to the Post's nearby offices so they could view the images on his camera.

It was the Post's decision to run the photo on the cover, not his, he said.

"It's a chilling photograph," Abbasi acknowledged. "It is a man facing his end."

He is aware that many people are upset with the coverage and his actions.

"There are people who are just passing judgment," Abbasi said, adding that the photos have "started a debate -- a conversation."

"There are both sides to a conversation," he said. "This has opened up a whole dialog about ethics, about safety and our subway system."

Abbasi, who wouldn't give his age but described himself as "middle-aged," said he first experimented with photography when he was about 15 years old.

He does a variety of photography, including landscapes, weddings and other images "that show the realities of our everyday life."

Through his craft and his life experience, Abbasi said, he has learned that "reality is all shades."

"Reality is painful and gruesome and beautiful and happiness," he said.

As for the harsh shade this week, he uses a camera metaphor to sum up how he is feeling.

"You can erase a memory card, but if you erase your memory you are in real trouble, so you have to live with it."

Abbasi has said that he was trying to alert the motorman to what was going on by flashing his camera.

"It took me a second to figure out what was happening. ... I saw the lights in the distance. My mind was to alert the train," Abbasi said.

"The people who were standing close to him ... they could have moved and grabbed him and pulled him up. No one made an effort," he added.

In a written account Abbasi gave the Post, he said a crowd took videos and snapped photos on their cellphones after Han was pulled, limp, onto the platform. He said he shoved them back as a doctor and another man tried to resuscitate the victim, but Han died in front of them.

Ashley Han and her mother, Serim Han, met reporters Wednesday inside their Presbyterian church in Queens. The family came to the U.S. from Korea about 25 years ago. They said Han was unemployed and had been looking for work. Their pastor said the family was so upset by the front-page photo of Han that they had to stay with him for comfort.

"I just wish I had one last chance to tell my dad how much I love him," Ashley Han said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Han, "if I understand it, tried to break up a fight or something and paid for it with his life."

The suspect's last known address was in a working-class neighborhood in Queens. The only neighbor who even vaguely remembered Davis was Charles Dawes, 80, who stays with his son two doors down.

Davis "came and went, came and went, and he always looked serious," Dawes said. "But I haven't seen him for three or four months."

Subway pushes are feared but fairly unusual. Among the more high-profile cases was the January 1999 death of Kendra Webdale, who was shoved to her death by a former mental patient.

Straphangers said they were shocked by Han's death but that it's always a silent fear for many of the more than 5.2 million commuters who ride the subway on an average weekday.

"Stuff like that you don't really think about every day. You know it could happen. So when it does happen it's scary but then what it all comes down to is you have to protect yourself," said Aliyah Syphrett, 23, who sat on a bench as she waited at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.

If she saw someone fall or be pushed, "I would try to help them, and also inform them that at the end of the platform there are steps.... If you can run to the other end you can come right back up the steps. But I guess at that moment you're panicked."

Diana Henry, 79, a Long Island resident, was waiting for a train at 34th Street. She stood as far from the platform as possible - about a dozen feet back, leaning against the wall.

"I'm always careful, but I'm even more careful after what happened," she said. "I stand back because there are so many crazies in this city that you never know."

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