- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Far removed from an era when New Yorkers knew him as the drunken motorman in a nightmarish subway crash, Robert Ray once again found himself in a miserable situation.

This time, Ray was the victim, mowed down by a hit-and-run driver as he tried to cross a busy thoroughfare in the Bronx. Witnesses said Ray appeared to be intoxicated.

The accident last week left the 62-year-old Ray with a skull fracture and broken leg - and also stirred memories of his notorious past.

“I was shocked,” said Ray’s former defense attorney, Michael Parson. “Of course, there’s tremendous irony, particularly if alcohol was involved.”

Parson said he lost touch with Ray years ago. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Ray, who remains hospitalized, and members of his family were unsuccessful.

Until last week, Ray had faded into obscurity as an ex-con with a homeless shelter his last known address. By comparison, his life driving a subway train in 1991 was the culmination of what his family described as his lifelong dream.

But even then, there were signs of trouble: Subway officials had cited him for skipping work, sleeping on the job and running a signal.

Ray, then 38, was late for work again on Aug. 28 before entering the cab of the Lexington Avenue No. 4 express. He later told police that he had been drinking whiskey and kept drifting off as he drove the train.

Shortly after midnight, the train jumped the tracks and plowed into walls and support columns in a tunnel near Union Square, splitting one car in half. Five people were killed and more than 200 injured in the worst subway disaster in 63 years.

Jonathan Pistilli and two other paramedics were among the first to arrive. The carnage and tangled wreckage, he recalled, was both “surreal” and overwhelming.

“There were three of us and 100 patients,” said Pistilli, now a fire department commander. “From dead, to critical, to walking wounded.”

While rescuers labored, Ray exited the subway, sat on a bench in Union Square Park and drank malt liquor. Tests later put his blood-alcohol level at 0.21 percent, more than twice the legal limit.

Ray was arrested and charged with murder. A jury found him guilty only of manslaughter, but the trial made him a tabloid villain.

“He was like a deer in headlights,” Parson said. “I don’t think he understood the full impact of what was going on. It was too much for him.”

At sentencing, Ray told the judge, “My heart bleeds very deeply for those families” victimized by a “work of God.” The judge shot back, “It was not God who caused it, it was you,” and gave him 5 to 15 years in prison.

Records show Ray was released from prison in 2002 and was on parole until 2007.

He turned up on the night of May 28 in the Bronx, where he was hit by a sedan that kept going. The driver turned himself in the next day and was charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

The accident was captured on a security video obtained by WABC-TV showing Ray walking out into the middle of the block against a light, pausing on a divider and stepping directly into traffic.

Police said there was no way to know if the hit-and-run driver had been drinking. But asked by WABC for his thoughts if it had turned out that way, Keith Pascal, whose mother was killed in the subway crash, responded, “Karma - I’d say it was really karma.”

When it comes to Ray, that concept “is interesting,” Pistilli said, “if you believe in that sort of thing.”

___

Associated Press Writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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