Subway train operator Garrett Goble is among more than 130 transit workers to die since March. Unlike most, however, he didn’t succumb to COVID-19 — yet his widow considers him a victim of the pandemic.
“When I say my husband died, automatically it’s like, ‘Oh, COVID,’” Delilah Goble told THE CITY.
“And I’m like, ‘No, it’s not how he lost his life, it’s because some idiot tried to set a train on fire.”
One week before what would have been Garrett Goble’s 37th birthday — and nearly three months after he died in a Harlem subway blaze in the wee hours of March 27 — his grieving widow remains baffled over the circumstances surrounding his death.
She’s upset there have been no arrests in a case that investigators believe was arson. And she’s left to wonder what would have happened had transit officials instituted the systemwide overnight closure for subway cleaning before May 6.
“If they would have done that sooner, this situation could have been avoided,” Goble said. “It’s upsetting.”
Worried About COVID
The surge in MTA worker deaths in the early weeks of the pandemic had weighed on the 33-year-old mother of two before Garrett Goble would leave their Brooklyn home to start his overnight shifts.
“I would say to him, ‘Be careful, be sure you clean your cab, disinfect it,” Delilah Goble told THE CITY. “I kept stressing that, never thinking someone would think it’s OK to set a train on fire.”
Her husband was operating a nearly empty No. 2 train when it started smoking and then burst into flames after entering the Central Park North-110th Street station shortly after 3 a.m. — around the same time as three other small fires in and around subway stations.
A shopping cart with a possible accelerant was recovered from one of the subway cars, sources told THE CITY, and Garrett Goble was found unresponsive on the tracks. Officials have said he and two conductors, including one who was off-duty, helped riders off the train and out of the station.
The NYPD has publicly classified his death as a homicide and released two photos of a man wanted for questioning.
“I’m still trying to piece it together,” Delilah Goble said. “I find it hard to accept that even during a pandemic, that there were people out there setting fires. That just blows my mind.”
Mired in ‘Isolation Grieving’
Goble, a bank teller in Manhattan, had taken the Q train to work the morning of the fire.
After her husband didn’t respond to text messages and as initial news reports identified the fire victim as a 36-year-old male who had died at Mount Sinai Hospital, she took an Uber to the Manhattan medical center. Her fears were quickly confirmed.
“I already knew it wasn’t good,” she said.
The 11 weeks since have been a blur of what Goble described as “isolation grieving.” Because of the pandemic, her husband’s Brooklyn funeral was limited to 10 mourners at a time, and loved ones were not able to see his coffin lowered into the ground.
The couple has two sons, 8-month-old Hunter and 10-year-old Noah. Delilah Goble said her husband was “super close” with their elder son.
“He reads the news, he watches it,” she said of Noah. “He’s looking for justice, for someone to answer for his dad’s death and I don’t want him to feel like his dad is forgotten.”
In the days after the fatal fire, a No. 4 train was tagged in The Bronx with Goble’s name and the words “Rest in Peace!” and “Protect the Workers!”
THE CITY reported this month that train operators and conductors have recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases among subway workers. An MTA spokesperson said nearly 4,000 workers at the transit agency have tested positive for the virus.
“We feel each individual loss deeply and each part of the organization feels it uniquely,” Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of New York City Transit, told THE CITY. “Garrett’s presence is felt each day — I know that because I hear from his friends and colleagues.”
‘They Don’t Forget Him’
Delilah Goble said she feels her husband’s presence, too.
“Sometimes I just think he’s at work, but we know he’s not,” she said. “Now that the process has slowed, every day is a different kind of pain.
“Some days are OK and some days I don’t want to do anything.”
Goble said she and her children will have to “readjust” as New Yorkers emerge from months of lockdown.
“So much is going on, and it’s like [his death] is slipping through the cracks,” she said. “I understand, we have big issues in the world — COVID, protests — I understand all of that. But this is important to my family.”
Feinberg said there are plans to memorialize and honor Garrett Goble, along with the other MTA workers who have died, once gatherings are able to be held again.
“There are so many families in pain, but the people who worked with him, they don’t forget him,” Delilah Goble said. “You want to thank everyone and hug everyone for not forgetting him.”