A Note from the Editor: Remembering the Santa Clara VTA Nine

Aug. 17, 2021
As the industry honors those killed, it also hopes the words of the Amanda Gorman poem read at their memorial service ring true; that ‘In testing times, we became the best of beings.’

One day after Mass Transit’s June issue was sent to the printer, the world received tragic news of a horrifying event unfolding at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light-rail yard in San Jose, Calif. Details were painfully sparse at first – an active shooter, authorities on scene, an unknown number of victims. The industry held its collective breath, awaiting more information that seemed to only get more and more grim. At the end of the first 24 hours, there was confirmation that still weighs heavy on the heart and mind: Nine victims killed in an apparent planned attack by one of their co-workers.

Santa Clara VTA made it clear the well-being and health of employees would be its priority as the agency dealt with the attack, from the availability of grief counselors shortly after the shooting to making employee readiness to return a key marker of its light-rail service restoration plan.

Investigators worked to shed light on the ‘how’ of the attack, but answering the ‘why’ has been and will continue to be much more difficult.

Poetry offered key officials a means of expression and a medium to convey their thoughts. Santa Clara VTA Board Chair Glenn Hendricks wrote and shared an original haiku on the tragedy during a press conference the day after the shooting. And at a July 18 event honoring the nine victims, Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez recited Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Miracle of Morning,” which was written during the pandemic, but its words and message to find purpose through pain still apply. The poem ends with the lines:

We’ll observe how the burdens braved by humankind

Are also the moments that make us humans kind;

Let every dawn find us courageous, brought closer;

Heeding the light before the fight is over.

When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeing

In testing times, we became the best of beings.

We honor the nine who were lost and recognize that behind their names are families and friends who are without fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, favorite uncles and best friends:

  • Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, substation maintainer
  • Adrian Balleza, 29, maintenance worker and light-rail operator
  • Alex Ward Fritch, 49, substation maintainer
  • Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, 35, substation maintainer
  • Lars Kepler Lane, 63, overhead line worker
  • Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40, overhead line worker
  • Paul Delacruz Megia, 42, assistant superintendent in service management
  • Taptejdeep Singh, 36, light-rail operator
  • Timothy Michael Romo, 49, overhead line worker
About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.