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Photos capture last moments of man hit by subway train

2:24 PM, Dec 4, 2012   |    comments
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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 subway platform Monday when he saw Ki Suk 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 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."

Abbasi said he would have been unable to pull the man to safety. Still, his actions drew outrage from many on Twitter. 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."

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 debate was under way Tuesday on 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 the signal, she says, so he didn't just ignore the victim.

In a situation like this "it's convenient to blame the photographer" for not taking enough action to help since he is so publically involved. "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 adds. "He's a witness to a death and he is vilified. And probably everyone on that platform is traumatized."

On the other hand, she was taken aback by the Post's online video that gave details of the story. In particular, the pre-roll 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."

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney and spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, a New York City transit riders' advocacy group, says newspaper cover "was distasteful," adding, "but we live in a country with free speech."

"I gasped when I saw the cover," he says.

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