Psychiatric test for suspect in NYC subway death
By COLLEEN LONG
The Associated Press | December 31,2012
A composite sketch showing the woman believed to have pushed a man to his death in front of a subway train on Thursday is shown. Police arrested Erika Menendez on Saturday after a passer-by on a street noticed she resembled the woman seen in a surveillance video.
NEW YORK — A woman suspected in the death of an immigrant who was pushed off a New York City subway platform has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
Erika Menendez, 31, was arraigned Saturday night on a charge of murder as a hate crime. She had told police she has hated Muslims since Sept. 11 and thought the victim was one. Judge Gia Morris ordered that Menendez be held without bail and be given a mental health exam.
Menendez is charged in the death of Sunando Sen, who was crushed by a train in Queens Thursday night. Friends and co-workers said Sen, a 46-year-old Indian immigrant, was Hindu.
“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,” Menendez told police, according to the district attorney’s office.
“The defendant is accused of committing what is every subway commuter’s worst nightmare,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Menendez was incoherent at her arraignment in Queens criminal court, at one point laughing so hard that the judge told her defense lawyer, “You’re going to have to have your client stop laughing.”
Menendez admitted shoving Sen, who was pushed from behind, authorities said. She was arrested after a tip by a passer-by who saw her on a street and thought she looked like the woman in a surveillance video released by police.
A call to Menendez’s attorney was not immediately returned Sunday.
Angel Luis Santiago, who used to work at the Queens building where Menendez’s mother and stepfather live, said he was shocked by her arrest.
“It surprised me what she did,” he said. “She never acted that way.”
Menendez’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 14.
Sen was the second man to die after being pushed in front of a New York City subway train this month. Ki-Suck Han was killed in a midtown Manhattan subway station Dec. 3. A photo of Han clinging to the edge of the platform a split second before he was struck by a train was published on the front page of the New York Post, causing an uproar about whether the photographer, who was catching a train, or anyone else should have tried to help him.
A homeless man was arrested and charged with murder in that case and is awaiting trial. He claimed he acted in self-defense.
It’s unclear whether anyone tried, or could have tried, to help Sen on Thursday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents Friday to keep Sen’s death in perspective as he touted new historic lows in the city’s annual homicide and shooting totals.
“It’s a very tragic case, but what we want to focus on today is the overall safety in New York,” Bloomberg told reporters following a police academy graduation.
But commuters still expressed concern over subway safety and shock about the arrest of Menendez on a hate crime charge.
“For someone to do something like that ... that’s not the way we are made,” said David Green, who was waiting for a train in Manhattan. “She needs help.”
Green said he caught himself leaning over the subway platform’s edge and realized maybe he shouldn’t do that.
“It does make you more conscious,” he said of the deaths.
Such subway deaths are rare, but other high-profile cases include the 1999 fatal shoving of aspiring screenwriter Kendra Webdale by a former psychiatric patient. That case led to a state law allowing for more supervision of mentally ill people living outside institutions.
Transit officials said last week they would consider installing barriers with sliding doors on some subway platforms. Other cities including Paris and London have installed such barriers.