Commuter's Murder Prompts Warning About Being Transfixed By Your Phone

Commuter's Murder Prompts Warning About Being Transfixed By Your Phone

Picture this: A bunch of people are riding the train. Like most commuters these days, they're staring at their phones: Skimming Twitter, reading books, playing games. A man takes out a .45 pistol. Puts it away. Takes it out again. No one notices. Then, he shoots and kills someone.

Sound like a made-up cautionary tale? It's not: as detailed in a new report in the San Francisco Chronicle, it happened just over a week ago at night on September 23, on a San Francisco Muni train. The whole thing was captured by a Muni security camera.

The gunman in question was Nikhom Thephakaysone, 30, who allegedly shot and killed 20-year-old Justin Valdez as Valdez exited the train. The Chronicle describes the chilling, deadly altercation as an apparently random encounter.

From the Chronicle:

For police and prosecutors, the details of the case were troubling - they believe the suspect had been out "hunting" for a stranger to kill - but so too was the train passengers' collective inattention to imminent danger.

"These weren't concealed movements - the gun is very clear," said District Attorney George Gascón. "These people are in very close proximity with him, and nobody sees this. They're just so engrossed, texting and reading and whatnot. They're completely oblivious of their surroundings."

Anyone who's used a phone in public knows how distracting they can be; I'm sure I'm not the only one whose curbed my sidewalk usage after almost stepping off a curb into traffic. And yet it's easy to forget that even while seated on a train or bus, it can be dangerous to get too wrapped up in the tiny space right in front of you.

I live in San Francisco, and just this last week, I noticed a new automated message playing on Muni busses and trains. It says, more or less: "Ride safe. Keep your eyes up and your phone in your pocket." Now we know what prompted the new PSA.

Next time you're on the train, deep in your new ebook or a game of Knightmare Tower, remember to get your eyes up every so often. It can be dangerous out there.

Absorbed device users oblivious to danger [SFGate]

Image: Shutterstock


    I gotta say, I use my phone heavily, but I've never come near to risk of injury due to a lack of observation of the world around me while doing so, because I thought it was common sense for me to be aware of my surroundings when I'm in public, but apparently not.
    In fact the only times something similar has happened was a few years ago I was listening to music from my iPod while walking to school and I crossed a road without looking and was almost hit by a car, but my eyes were not distracted at all.

    Constantly risk-assessing every single individual on a public transport is a sure way to get a heart attack, as well as making you and other people uncomfortable. If I don't use my phone, I'll stare out the window instead. That's a tragic incident, but again the problem seems to be somewhere other than where fingers are being pointed (like, I dunno, gun control and media representation of these accidents)

    I don't know...

    For police and prosecutors, the details of the case were troubling – they believe the suspect had been out “hunting” for a stranger to kill – but so too was the train passengers’ collective inattention to imminent danger.

    What should they have done instead? Noticed him brandishing a pistol and all panicked and start running around so that he shoots a whole lot of them? If the guy was looking to shoot someone randomly then noticing he had a gun would probably have got the first person to see it killed instead of the poor bastard that happened to move off the train.

      Yeah, this doesn't really make much sense to me. What are they expecting the passengers to do, exactly? Unless you're armed yourself, all you're going to be able to do is make yourself a higher priority target.

    If only they put a ban on mobile phones this tragedy would never have happened.

      Hell no! The only way to stop someone with transfixed by a mobile, is a good guy with a mobile. You know, to bluetooth them a warning... about freedom. And stuff...

      Last edited 09/10/13 6:09 pm

        All those commuters transfixed on violent video games.. when will we learn.

      PiratePete, I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or incredibly dense.
      People being aware of a psycho with a gun would not stop the psycho from firing his weapon, if anything a panic would've resulted in more fatalities.

        He was mocking the NRA hard-line argument that to stop gun tragedies in the US, more guns are needed.

    Of course, the core problem here is all the people looking at their mobiles and not, for example, that a nutter was allowed to have a gun and carry it around freely.

    Ban Angry Birds!

    Guns don't kill people... inattentive commuters looking at their mobiles kill people.

      Indeed.. such a nonsense article taken to extremes like Fox do. How is it any different to people sleeping on the train, absorbed in polite conversation, engrossed in a physical book and so on.

      Such rubbish.

        or even daring to stand at the door, waiting to get off at the next stop, and just happens to be facing the opposite way.

        The shooter is most likely the EXTACT TYPE OF PERSON, that gun laws are designed to prevent from getting a gun.

      We are dealing with gun culture so do not expect too much by way of rational, reasoned thought

    I take it the article was written by a gun nut? Always blaming something else to defend their 'freedom'.

    Last edited 09/10/13 7:07 pm

    If he didn't have a gun, he doesn't shoot anyone.


    Remember, if you are ever attacked and killed, or near someone who is, it WILL BE your fault. Not the guy with the gun's fault, but yours. Regardless of what happens, they WILL find a way to make it your fault. Because crime only happens to Bad People Who Deserve It, so if something bad happens to you, you clearly offended God and deserved Holy Retribution.

    Or, y'know, a psycho with a gun got bored of waiting for someone to pay attention to him so he could kill them, and just killed whoever was handy.

    I don't know. As much as I'd love to think of myself as the kind of person who would kick the gun out of the guy's hands and then lay him out flat on the ground in a choke hold, I think I'd be more glad to have an excuse not to look a crazy guy in the eye and give him an excuse to shoot me.

    There's been a lot of this sort of "if only someone stepped in and took action" stories over the decades. But there's also plenty of stories of people who do step in to help, and end up getting killed over it (like in Melbourne sometime around mid 2000.)

    Yes, if everyone had stepped in and wrestled with the guy, there might not have been any casualties.
    But nothing will guarantee someone will be there to back you up, especially not strangers who (by human nature) are going to feel relieved that someone else is handling it.

    It sometimes sucks that we're this way, but we're wired for it for survival reasons.

    Cautionary tale for Americans but we live in Australia so... not for us.

    A mobile on a train is no more distracting than say, a newspaper or a book really, actually I'd say those things are more so, being larger and taking up more of you field of view.

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