Metro-East News

String of shootings begs question: ‘Is it safe to ride the MetroLink?’

Tyrone Johnson sat at the Swansea MetroLink station on an unseasonably warm November afternoon Tuesday, listening to some music as he waited for his train.

The 26-year-old Collinsville man uses public transportation to get him to his classes at Southwestern Illinois College as well as to work every day. He was sitting only feet away from the spot where a shooting took place on the platform less than 24 hours earlier. The shooting didn’t alter his plans to ride the train. The incident, where police say a man was shot in the face on Monday evening as he stood on the platform, wasn’t a shock to Johnson.

“It doesn’t surprise me that it happened because I know they’ve had issues before, but I’ve never had any problems and have never been in danger,” said Johnson, who said he’s been riding the train daily since moving to the area five years ago. “It does worry me sometimes that there isn’t security anywhere in sight most times when I’m riding it.”

Monday’s incident was the third high-profile shooting on the MetroLink in the last two weeks. On Nov. 17, a MetroLink security officer was shot while checking fares at the Wellston station in St. Louis. A 22-year-old St. Louis man, Mychael Garrett II, was shot by St. Louis County Police officers who were at the stop. Garrett was captured immediately after the shooting and was charged with several felonies.

Police said a man was shot in the back at the East St. Louis MetroLink stop near the Casino Queen around 8 p.m. on Nov. 22. Police said an “undetermined amount of money” was taken from the victim in the East St. Louis shooting. St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office investigators are trying to see if there is a connection between the East St. Louis incident and Monday’s incident at the Swansea stop.

In the wake of Monday’s shooting, it had some people asking the question, “Is it safe to ride the MetroLink?”

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Waston answered that question Tuesday with a resounding “Yes.”

“It’s absolutely safe to ride the MetroLink,” Watson said.

Security for each of the MetroLink stations falls to the police jurisdictions where the stations are located, MetroLink spokesperson Patti Beck said. In addition to security officers employed by MetroLink, officers with St. Louis City Police, St. Louis County Police and the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department are in charge of security of all MetroLink platforms. For the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, that means it has to monitor the 11 MetroLink stops in the county.

Watson said his department has its own MetroLink detail, a detail that proved important on Monday night and wound up capturing two suspects police believe were involved with the shooting.

“Some good police work led to their arrests,” Watson said.

Watson said Sgt. Kenny McHughes was patrolling the Swansea station parking lot when he saw two men in the parking lot who Watson said looked out of place.

“(McHughes) didn’t even know a shooting had taken place until after he had the guys in custody,” Watson said.

Watson said one of the primary responsibilities of the department’s MetroLink detail is to get out of their cars and monitor the platforms and parking lots. He said officers will look for vehicles with their doors unlocked and then lock them for people. Officers will leave reminder cards on the vehicles that promote parking lot safety.

“We want to get to know the people who ride the trains,” Watson said. “The guys who work the MetroLink detail get to know the people.”

Beck said passenger safety is a priority for the MetroLink. She said the service handles 850,000 riders per week in Missouri and Illinois.

“We want to do everything we can to get our riders safely to their destinations,” Beck said.

Beck did not have statistics for how many incidents happen at MetroLink stations. She said those statistics are complied by the St. Louis City Police, St. Louis County Police and the St. Clair County Police.

The recent incidents haven’t had much of an effect on those who use the service daily. Jayme Miller, a 60-year-old daily MetroLink user from Belleville, has no plans to stop riding the train.

“I’m just more alert,” she said. “I’ve been riding so long that I try to stay aware of what’s going on around me.”

Paul Serverian, 65, of Belleville, also didn’t think twice about using the MetroLink on Tuesday.

“It can happen anywhere,” Serverian said of the shooting incidents. “It’s terrible that it happens on the MetroLink, but people get robbed in shootings everywhere. It’s an incident that you don’t want to happen.

“I’ve never had a problem, and I don’t even think about having a problem getting on.”

Don O’Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND