Transit workers continue to die from COVID-19 in greater numbers than workers at any other city or state agency. To date, 84 MTA workers have died; Gothamist spoke with the family and friends of two of them, and we will be updating here with more remembrances.
Darryl Sweeney, Tower Operator
Darryl Sweeney, 58, had four children. But it was his only daughter Deja he took to see plays on Broadway. She said his favorite was “The Mountaintop,” a fictional account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night.
“He loved that one, he talked about it forever,” Deja said. She said her father was very thoughtful, and methodical. His favorite game was chess. He earned his black belt in jiu jitsu this year. And philosophically, he was aligned with King. “He liked his ideology,” she said.
Darryl was a Tower Operator, which is like air traffic control for the trains. A job that requires constant attention. One of his co-workers and fellow union leader Chris Drummond said there was one quality that made him different. “This guy never gets mad. And that’s what I admired about him,” he said.
Drummond said that as an executive board member for Transit Workers Union Local 100, Darryl worked hard to improve conditions.
“He really had a desire for change. He really cared about his brothers and sisters at transit. He just wanted people to be treated with dignity and respect,” Drummond said.
Drummond remembers their last conversation before they both got the coronavirus was about joining a jiu jitsu class.
“I’m not joining the class, I’m not paying for someone to beat me up,” Drummond said. “You know that’s the kind of guy he was, it was more about my well being, he was talking about my fitness.”
As for his family, he pushed them to be their best too. After his daughter got her bachelor’s degree, she was determined to never go back to school.
“He was like, ‘You always said you want to go to law school.’ So he was like, ‘I think it’s time for you to go.’ I was like ‘no, no, I’m not doing it.’ He made me realize, sometimes you can’t stop chasing your dream,” Deja said.
She ended up getting a scholarship to a law school in Michigan. The last time they were together was late February when he dropped her off to take the bar exam. He wished her good luck, and reminded her to not second guess herself.
“After I took my exam he would call me every week and ask if I had my results, and I’d tell him every week, they don’t come out until April, but he’d still call,” she said.
In late March, Darryl called out sick from work, and wasn’t answering his phone. One of his sons climbed through the window of his East New York apartment to check on him. He found his father disoriented, with a raspy voice, and having difficulty breathing.
Listen to the obituary of Darryl Sweeney:
They called an ambulance, but the paramedics said he didn’t need to go to a hospital. So the family kept him at home. He slept a lot. Drank Gatorade and lost a ton of weight.
Two weeks later, his condition worsened.
“At the end, he didn’t even know who we were,” Deja said. “He didn’t recognize us, that was real disappointing.”
Darryl died on April 11th. Cleaning out his stuff, Deja learned new things about her dad: like that he’d been a popular Brooklyn boxer when he was young. He had a box full of Kangol hats in all types of colors and fabrics. There was tons of jewelry, fancy shoes, fedoras, and nice suits.
But she said the thing she’ll miss most about her dad, are his funny sayings.
“Like if I call him and say, ‘Daddy I have a problem,’ he’d be like, ‘I taught you the SODA technique, you should use it—S you have to look for possible solutions. O stands for your options. D what are the disadvantages. And then you look at the (A) advantages and then you decide. I always used to get so mad, it was so aggravating. Now I wish he could say it to me,” she said.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Darryl Sweeney leaves behind three children, six siblings and his mother.
Darlisa Nesbitt, Train Operator
Darlisa Nesbitt, 51, born and raised in Brooklyn, worked for the MTA for more than half her life. The train operator seemed to have three passions in life: family, church, and minimal, but affordable jewelry, which she sold in her free time. She was a soloist in her church, and was the kind of person who posted memes about choir practice on social media.
Le Cheryl Kenner-Edwards met Darlisa more than two decades ago. She’s also a train operator and they met when they were both working on the A/C line.
“She was really very nice, very, very nice. She would tell me funny stories about her father being a preacher in the church and everything. And I loved her glasses, always she always had the nicest glasses,” Kenner-Edwards said.
Edwards’ grandson was born the same year as Darlisa’s daughter, who’s 14 years old now. They liked to joke that one day the two would get married and they could be in-laws.
“I always told her yeah, your daughter is going to marry my grandson,” she said.
Darlisa lived in Bed-Stuy in an apartment below her 88-year-old mother, Doris. Because her father died years ago and because she was the only child of four still living in New York City, Darlisa took care of her mother, running errands, picking up dinner. Doris said since her daughter died earlier this month, Darlisa's friends have been reaching out.
“My phone rings constantly, even her friends that have moved out of town and heard about it, they called to see how I was doing and I really appreciate that so much,” she said.
Listen to the obituary of Darlisa Nesbitt:
Doris remembers how much her daughter loved her job, “She enjoyed it so much, she was always talking about driving a train.” The first time her daughter pulled into the station near her home, Doris raced out to get a picture.
“I lived one block from the station. She was on the J line, I took a picture of her coming into the station, oh my, it was just so beautiful,” she said.
Doris said when her daughter got the coronavirus last month, everything just happened so fast. She was admitted to one hospital, and then quarantined in another. They could only talk over the phone. And five days later, on April 2nd, Darlisa was dead.
“I just can’t say how much I’m going to miss her because she was really a precious daughter, and jeez, it hurts so bad. But I know she’s in a better place now,” Doris said.