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Beating victim's mom: 'I want to know who did this'

AT 6 FEET 1 and 350 pounds, Eric Najee Derrickson is not a guy most sane people would mess with.

Eric Derrickson leans over the bed where his comatose son, Eric, lies after suffering a brutal beating in a subway concourse.
Eric Derrickson leans over the bed where his comatose son, Eric, lies after suffering a brutal beating in a subway concourse.Read more

AT 6 FEET 1 and 350 pounds, Eric Najee Derrickson is not a guy most sane people would mess with.

But Tuesday afternoon, someone jumped Derrickson, 23, of West Philadelphia, in an underground concourse in Center City, stomping his head so severely that he remained in critical condition on life support yesterday at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

The attack happened in a city-owned pedestrian concourse outside the westbound subway platform at 13th and Market streets, in almost the same spot where a pack of thugs ambushed Starbucks manager Sean Patrick Conroy last March, sparking a fatal asthma attack.

And both assaults occurred on busy weekday afternoons, leaving Derrickson's distraught relatives and many SEPTA riders with deep questions about security on a public-transit system that averages 1 million passengers daily.

At least three other passengers have been attacked in underground SEPTA areas since March.

"This is not the f--- safe," Derrickson's mother, Anita Cross, said yesterday, seething in quiet fury as she sat vigil at her comatose son's bedside. "You can't even wait for the El to go somewhere without getting attacked?"

SEPTA officials say that the attack wasn't random.

Preliminary information from SEPTA police suggests that Derrickson and his attacker got into an argument that erupted into a fistfight, SEPTA spokesman Felipe Suarez said.

But witnesses told city police that they didn't see how the incident started, said Officer Tanya Little, a police spokeswoman. Rather, they saw a man standing over Derrickson's prone body, repeatedly stomping on his head, Little said.

The attack ended only after riders on the opposite subway platform hollered and ran for aid, police said.

There were no surveillance cameras to catch the incident, which occurred on the unpaid side of the subway turnstiles in a concourse that runs between City Hall and the Gallery.

Some details are undisputed.

Derrickson, the nephew of two city homicide detectives, had gone downtown to Family Court to make a child-support payment, said Chernia Williams, 26, of Upper Darby, who has a 2-year-old daughter, Erica, with Derrickson.

Williams said that she last talked to her ex-beau, with whom she remains on good terms, by cell phone at about 2:45 p.m. as he headed into Family Court. When she didn't hear from him again, she worried that he had encountered a hard-nosed judge who jailed him as punishment for his support arrearage.

Instead, she later learned, Derrickson had been rushed to Jefferson after the 3:25 p.m. attack left him unconscious, bleeding profusely and gasping for air.

Yesterday, he was on a ventilator, hooked up to a cranial monitor to gauge brain swelling and surrounded by countless other beeping, whirring machines.

His father, Eric Wayne Derrickson, sat in a corner, discreetly wiping his teary eyes, as he gazed at his son's swollen, stitched-up head.

"It's getting out of hand," he said of city violence. "This happened in almost the same spot as that Starbucks manager, and the young people [offenders] are still getting away with it."

Relatives, who said that Derrickson minded his business and didn't start fights, believe that more than one person was involved.

"My son is big - there's no way that one man could have knocked my son down like that," said Cross, of South Philadelphia. But police say that they're seeking one suspect, whom they describe as a tall, thin black man, with a scruffy beard and close-cropped hair, about 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds. He was wearing a white T-shirt, dark jeans and tan Timberland boots.

"Until someone can talk to the victim, who remains unconscious, we may not know exactly what happened," Little said.

On the concourse late yesterday morning, many riders had heard of the previous day's violence - and consequently took measures to protect themselves.

"I asked him to come with me, you know, the buddy system," said Sylvia Lewis, 45, who brought coworker Mark Lowrey on an errand downtown from their drug-research jobs in University City. "I can't believe that happened at 3:30 in the afternoon."

Lowrey agreed, pointing to a noticeable absence of police patrols: "Where's the protection?"

SEPTA had vowed, in the days after Conroy's death, to step up patrols, especially in the busy after-school hours when many subway stations are besieged by rowdy students.

But some say that security remains lax, at least at the 13th and Market concourse.

"I see the cops come by maybe once an hour, but they ride on a golf cart and only stop for a few minutes to glance at the platform, and the bad guys know that," said Carl Callahan, who hawks newspapers four days a week on the concourse where Derrickson and Conroy were attacked. "In the early '80s, they always had a cop with a German shepherd down here, and there were never any problems. We really need to bring the German shepherds back, because nobody messes with those dogs."

Suarez said that the latest attack could prompt security changes.

"We're always reviewing our security plans, and we may again review where and how we deploy our officers and how we work with Philadelphia police in how we deter these types of incidents," Suarez said.

That's little consolation to Derrickson's family, who packed the tiny waiting room of Jefferson's surgical intensive-care unit, praying for doctors to bring only good news.

Derrickson, who is unemployed, was planning to enroll in a program this fall to learn to drive a tractor-trailer, relatives said.

"This mother------ tried to kill my baby," Cross said of her son's attacker. "I could be planning my son's funeral right now. I want justice. I want to know who did this. If anybody knows who did this, just call, so he can get justice for what he did."

Tipsters can call Central Detectives at 215-686-3093. *