A young woman was decapitated by the wheels of an onrushing subway train last night after she was knocked off the platform by a troubled man who “just had the urge to push her,” police sources said.
Kendra Webdale, 32, died instantly after she was struck by an uptown R train that roared into the station at 23rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan, police said.
“No, no, no, oh, my God, no!” Webdale’s sister, Kim, cried when she learned of the death.
Cops from the 13th Precinct rushed to the scene and quickly arrested a suspect identified as Andrew Goldstein, 29, of Howard Beach, Queens. Police described him as an outpatient at a clinic, although it was unclear what kind of clinic it was.
Sources said Goldstein was restrained on the platform by eyewitnesses, who immediately summoned a police officer to arrest him.
Officers also hustled away horrified witnesses and Transit Authority workers for interviews.
The incident happened about 5:15 p.m.
Police said Goldstein approached Webdale, who was wearing jeans and a sweater and traveling alone.
After speaking a few words to her, police said, Goldstein pushed the woman into the path of the oncoming train.
Sources said Webdale was dragged underneath the train several feet.
The woman fell on the southern end of the platform, the section of the station where the uptown train would be moving at its highest speed – giving the train operator almost no time to react.
It happened so quickly that some in the station didn’t see what was going on.
“I didn’t know what happened,” a Transit Authority employee said. “All of a sudden, someone made an announcement to shut everything and not let anyone onto the platform.”
Mayor Giuliani called the shoving “a heinous and detestable act. It will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted.”
“The good Samaritans who acted so swiftly are deserving of the highest praise,” he said, adding that he would make sure they got commendations.
The incident wreaked havoc on the Broadway local line, diverting R trains to the Sixth Avenue line and forcing N trains onto express tracks from Canal to 34th streets.
While the killing may represent every straphanger’s worst nightmare, murder is increasingly rare in the subway.
Subway crime has plunged in the past decade. There were only four killings in the subways in 1997 and one in 1998, compared to 26 in 1990.
But even in safe times, a common fear haunts riders standing on a crowded platform. It’s of being shoved in front of a speeding train by a crazed attacker.
“I never stand less than 6 or 7 feet away from the edge of the platform,” said Joe Rappaport, coordinator of the Straphangers Campaign. “Those are large things coming at you.”
A shoving attack rocked the crime-ridden city on June 7, 1979, when Queens flautist Renee Katz, then 17, had her right hand severed when an assailant pushed her in front of a speeding E train at the 50th Street station in Manhattan. The hand was reattached, but she was never able to play the flute again.
A CBS clerk arrested in the attack was later acquitted. Katz, who took up a singing career, said in a 1997 interview that she still only takes the train in the daytime.
Other previous shoving attacks include:
*Emotionally disturbed teen Jaheem Grayton, of Brooklyn, pleading guilty in December 1996 to pushing a 20-year-old mother off an M train to her death that February while trying to steal her cheap costume earrings which he thought were gold.
*Also in February 1996, a 30-year-old Staten Island chemist who suffered only a broken arm after an attacker shoved her into the side of a No. 1 train in Manhattan’s Chamber Street station.
*Escaped mental patient Reuben Harris hurling a 63-year-old grandmother in front of an F train at Manhattan’s 34th Street station in January 1995. The woman died.
*A Brooklyn woman on her way to night school in December 1995 being tossed into the path of an oncoming train in the DeKalb Avenue station and surviving by lying flat between the rails.