Laura Petrecca and Melanie Eversley
2:47PM EST December 4. 2012 - NEW YORK - A New York photographer who saw a man pushed onto subway tracks and hit by a train says he took pictures of the man as the train approached in hopes the camera's flash would warn the driver to stop.
R. Umar Abbasi, a freelance photographer for the New York Post, told the newspaper he was on the Times Square subway platform Monday when he saw Ki-Suck Han, 58, pushed onto the tracks. "I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash," Abbasi told the Post.
The Post published a front-page photo of Han on the tracks, apparently trying to climb onto the platform, with the moving train just feet away. Abbasi said Han tried to scramble back to the platform as onlookers screamed for the train driver to stop. The train slowed, but Han could not escape.
Abbasi, who said he would have been unable to rescue the man, said the train "crushed him like a rag doll."
"The most painful part was I could see him getting closer to the edge. He was getting so close," he told the Post. "And people were running toward him and the train."
Physician Laura Kaplan was on the platform when the tragedy occurred and told the Post she rushed over to help the dying man. "People were shouting and yelling when it happened, but then people ran the other way," Kaplan, 27, told the Post. "I heard what I thought were heart sounds," she said, but Han never took a breath, and she was unable to get into position to administer CPR.
A manhunt was underway for the man who pushed Han. Police described him as a black man, 30 to 40 years old, about 5-foot-9, with short dreadlocks. He was wearing a white T-shirt, dark jacket, jeans, black sneakers with a white stripe and a black beanie cap.
A day later, four friends exiting the same station where the tragedy occurred expressed dismay that the photographer didn't try to do more for Han. "I'd jump in there for my cellphone; I'd definitely jump in there for a man," said student Charlene Johashen, 26, of Brooklyn. "It bothers me because now I wonder about myself and whether anyone would help if I was pushed."
Twitter lit up with some attacks on the photographer for failing to do more. Among tweets:
-- Natasha Henry ?(@NatashaSHenry) "Disgusting! Whatever happened to integrity? Or just basic morals?"
-- Matt Jordan (@infamousmj) "The photog should be arrested. He should have helped him."
Some experts questioned whether the Post should have published the picture.
"I see nothing wrong with running the photo," says Nina Berman, an associate professor of photojournalism at Columbia University's Columbia Journalism School in New York City.
The photographer said he tried to alert the train driver by flashing a signal, she says, so he didn't just ignore the victim.
In such a situation, "it's convenient to blame the photographer" for not taking enough action to help. "But what about all the other people there who you don't see in the frame?" she says.
"I bet the photographer is traumatized," she says. "He's a witness to a death, and he is vilified. And probably everyone on that platform is traumatized."
She was taken aback by the Post's online video that gave details of the story. In particular, the ad that ran before the story came up bothered her.
That comes across as "let's milk this story and get some ad space on it," she says. "That's kind of disgusting."
Kelly McBride, senior faculty member for ethics at journalism's Poynter Institute, says the photographer should have tried to help the victim in a more direct manner.
"He had a moral obligation to try to get to the guy and pull him out of the subway well," she says. "Maybe it wasn't possible, maybe it wasn't doable. There are many things that aren't doable, but you have to try."
She says that, even taking into consideration "the best possible version of this story - that the photographer was trying to help and the pictures were a byproduct" - even then, "running the photos is horrible," she says.
The newspaper cover "was distasteful," says Gene Russianoff, staff attorney and spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, a New York City transit riders' advocacy group, "but we live in a country with free speech."
"I gasped when I saw the cover," he says.