Woman dies after jumping onto tracks — (Riverdale Press)

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Riverdale Press

August 10, 2011

By Graham Kates and Nikki Dowling

A 74-year-old Kingsbridge woman jumped in front of a No. 1 train at the 231st Street station and died when the train hit her on Aug. 4.

Eleonora Gsell had battled depression and loneliness for years before her life ended, just a few blocks from the Riverdale Avenue apartment building where she lived for at least the last four decades, friends and neighbors said.

Capt. Kevin Burke, commanding officer of the 50th Precinct, said she “intentionally jumped onto the track and waited for the train to strike her,” at around 9:45 a.m. A police source said she was found with Lexapro, a depression medication, and Reglan, a diabetes treatment, on her person.

“Two independent eye witnesses said she was sitting there, got up as the train was approaching, jumped in and waited for the train,” Capt. Burke said.

Ms. Gsell lived at 3017 Riverdale Ave. for between 40 and 50 years, George Tirner, the building’s superintendent, said.

Her neighbor, Sophie Pantazopoulos, said she was known as a friendly, but lonely person, who was fond of knitting and crocheting.

“She mostly kept to herself, but she was always very friendly in the hallway,” Ms. Pantazopoulos said.

Ms. Pantazopoulos said her mother and Ms. Gsell once worked together at Apple Bank in Washington Heights and that the two visited each other before the elder Ms. Pantazopoulos died.

But the last few years proved challenging for Ms. Gsell. Friends said she suffered from depression stemming from a bus accident in 2007. Ms. Gsell was struck by an MTA bus near the busy intersection where Irwin and Riverdale avenues meet.

After Ms. Gsell’s accident, she spent four months at the Manhattanville Health Care Center.

“She was an exceptionally warm, sociable and caring person. She would sit in the day room and people would gradually cluster around her,” creative arts therapist Ella Gregory said. “If she was speaking with you, you were the most important person in the room.”

But after returning home, she left her apartment less and less frequently, her neighbors said.

“She was always friendly, but things got difficult for her,” Mr. Tirner said. “She struggled with the heat and money. She didn’t want to have to live in a nursing home.”

Instead, on Aug. 4, she travelled to the subway station five blocks from her apartment and took her own life.

Steven Banks, 27, was waiting for a train to take him to work when, he said, he witnessed the gruesome death.

“Everybody kinda put their hands on their mouth and turned away,” he said.

Jawanda Burgess said she was riding the No. 1 train when it hit Ms. Gsell. A train operator announced there was a passenger injury, but when Ms. Burgess got off the train she saw a crowd of devastated bystanders.

“People were sitting around crying,” she said.

For some time afterward, an arm protruded from the tracks, hanging above the street near the station’s southwestern entrance. When police arrived, they roped off that section of the street and were guarding all the entrances. Still, crowds gathered near the scene.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Mr. Banks said. “Cops were looking beneath the train trying to find [her] and I saw the foot and was like ‘over here!’ I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time.”

For about two hours, No. 1 train service was suspended in both directions between the Van Cortlandt Park 242nd Street and 215th Street stations, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Some buses were being rerouted onto Bailey Avenue.

An MTA operator whose uptown No. 1 train was stopped after coming into the 231st Street station just after the incident, was visibly shaken. Hunched over a railing looking away from the body, his eyes red from tears, the operator said it wasn’t the first time he’s seen a body on the tracks.

“Every time it happens it brings back the bad memories. You don’t expect to see a person on the tracks,” the operator said. “It isn’t easy, there are some guys who have had this three or four times and some guys who have never seen it. But it’s never easy.”

“It affects you,” he added.