We're lucky if we only have to contemplate how we would react in a life threatening situation, rather than actually find out if we're as brave as we would like to think. Wesley Autrey found out, and in the process, saved another man's life.
A quick-thinking commuter saved a teenager who apparently suffered a seizure and fell onto subway tracks in Upper Manhattan, by jumping onto the tracks himself and pushing them both between the rails, beneath the oncoming train.
50-year-old Wesley Autrey of Manhattan, was standing on the platform with his two daughters whom he was taking home so he could go to his construction job.
When Autrey saw Hollopeter fall, he quickly took action and left his daughters to jump on the tracks to bring the man to safety as an oncoming train approached.
"I didn't want the man's body to get run over,” Autrey said. “Plus, I was with my daughters and I didn't want them to see that."
That was enough to think about, but then his rescue efforts hit a snag.
Autrey jumped down onto the tracks and initially tried to pull Hollopeter up to the platform but had to decide whether he could get him up in time to avoid both of them getting hit.
"I was trying to pull him up, but his weight [was too much] plus he was fighting against me — he didn't know who I was,” Autrey told CBS station WCBS-TV.
Autrey said the man was still moving violently from the seizure, so he pulled him into the center of the tracks — away from the high-voltage third rail — and laid on top of him. "The only thing that popped up in my mind was, 'OK, well, go for the gutter,'" Autrey said. "So I dove in, I pinned him down and once the first car ran over us, my thing with him was to keep him still."
Such things are not as easy as they appear in the movies.
The subway trough between the rails, which is used for drainage, is typically about 12 inches deep but can be as shallow as 8 or as deep as 24, a New York City Transit spokesman said.
That teenager was obviously fortunate in several respects, that Mr. Autrey would think and act quick enough to adjust to the circumstances and that the location allowed them just enough enough room to survive.
The train's operator saw someone on the tracks and put the emergency brakes on. Two cars of the train passed over the men — with about 2 inches to spare, Autrey said — before it came to a stop.
A different location and we may have been mourning the death of two people instead of cheering a wonderfully heroic act.
Hollopeter's stepmother, Rachel Hollopeter, said Autrey was "an angel."
"He was so heroic," she said early Wednesday in a telephone interview. "If he wasn't there, this would be a whole different call."
Onlooker Patricia Brown said Autrey, a Vietnam War veteran, "needs to be recognized as a hero." Others cheered him and hugged him outside the train station.
In this day and age, heroes need to be recognized and applauded. Wesley Autrey turned a potential tragedy into a triumph, at great personal risk. Too many times, we've seen disasters bring out the worst in humanity. Yet, there are always those, in the way they respond, who show us there is still much good in the world.
Though there may be much darkness in the world of late, this selfless act reminds us that there is still some light and goodness in the human spirit.
Thank you Wesley Autrey.
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