Later the police told me that about once a year somebody falls from the platform onto the train tracks of Atlanta’s public transit system. This year, I guess, it happened about 20 feet from where I was standing.
I am on my way to band practice. It’s about 3:45, and I am staring down to my left where the train will approach, even though the sign says that it won’t be here for another 11 minutes. I’m running late again.
I hear a crashing noise to my right and screams from the platform on the other side of the tracks. I peer over the edge of my platform, and, sure enough, 20 or so feet down there is a white male crumpled between the tracks and the third rail.
I run down towards him, throwing off my sunglasses, backpack, ipod, and flip flops. I am thinking, “This is kinda like a House episode I just watched.” I’m also happy that I have just looked at the screen, and I know we should have 10 minutes to get the guy out before the train hits him. “This will be so easy,” I think to myself, “I can totally get this guy out.” I am about to jump down when someone next to me screams,
“Don’t touch him! Don’t touch him! You’ll fucking die! The electricity! Don’t fucking touch him!”
I never turned. I never saw his face. So I have no idea who that guy was. But the screaming guy to my left, through sheer vocal intensity, stopped me from jumping in. I had not even thought about electricity.
I crouch down on the platform directly above the guy who had fallen and for a second or two I don’t know what to do. I keep glancing down the tracks where the oncoming train will appear and looking at the guy.
The guy who fell in looks epileptic. He is convulsing and seems unconscious. At that point another guy jumps into the middle of the track. He is about to help when that same screaming voice from my left subdues him as well. He stands there, looking at the convulsing man crumpled in the train tracks, up at me, then back down at the man. I didn’t know what to do either.
He stops convulsing and is hardly moving. Then I hear somebody else from the far platform start to encourage the man to get up, and I think, at the moment, that is the best thing I can do. For the next 15 or so seconds, I feel like I am just being a FitWit personal trainer, my day job. I start out by saying,
“My name is Jer. I am standing above you because you have fallen down in the tracks. You need to know where you are. You are in danger of getting shocked and we can’t touch you. It’s up to you. So dig deep and stand up.”
To be honest, I don’t know if I said all those things exactly, but I remember telling him my name and where he was in a loud, surprisingly calm voice. I get louder and louder and eventually scream at him “Man the fuck up and stand up!” As I explain the situation to him, he stirs a bit more, but he is still extremely slow and lethargic.
“Get the fuck up!” I scream.
He moves some more and this time touches something. Electric shocks flash up and down his body. He’s now filthy, but I worry that the black marks are not just grease and dirt but scorch marks.
I scream something like, “You need to ignore it and stand up!” Getting shocked seems to make him realize what a dangerous situation he’s in. He’s finally ready to shake himself awake and get up. His eyes are blinking as he struggles to prop himself up on his elbow. He looks up at me and reaches out his hand.
I realized in retrospect that there was definitely a moment of decision. Nobody had touched him yet, and he was clearly getting constantly shocked by who knows how many volts. But I remember thinking, “I can’t leave him hanging.”
I grab his hand and pull. I realize I am getting shocked through his hand. It’s repetitive and jabbing pain, like sticking my finger repetitively in an electrical outlet. My adrenaline is pumping like mad.
I pull him up to his feet and drag him roughly over the edge of the platform, fully clear of ledge. He collapses on the ground as people clap and holler. After looking at him for a second, I tell someone to call 911. The guy is clearly in shock and showering me with thanks saying, “It was you man. You did it.” I tell him it was him, that he did it, and then I collapse too.
We sat there panting for a bit. He seemed ok, but delirious, and I still didn’t know if all the black marks on him were burns or grease. But I think he was just happy to be alive, and I was too.
We sat there grinning at each other. Talk about an instant bonding experience. That’s when I asked him his name, and I think he said Wes. I’m not sure. Wes, I hope you read this. We should meet up and you can buy me a beer!
But cops came and took him away I sat for a bit longer before gathering my flip flops, ipod, etc., scattered over the platform. As I stood there, waiting for the next train I guess, I realized just how many people had been watching. There were probably about 300 people, but who knows. I was in shock too.
That’s when somebody on the other platform pointed me out and said that I was the one who pulled Wes out. The cop thought it was someone next to me at first, but then the guy said, “No, that guy,” pointing at me.
“Holy shit. I guess that really happened,” I thought to myself.
The cop asked in a loud voice across the train tracks, “We need a statement from you. Can you come to the station?”
“Can I just do it here?” I asked, “I’m late for work.”
The officer nodded his head and sent another officer to run through the maze that is Five Points MARTA station to my platform. He had me jot down my contact info. As I was doing so, I told him that I was being shocked as I pulled Wes out. The officer immediately insisted that I get checked out.
At the station, after I sat in a room by myself and tried to write legibly, I got to talk to the officers.
Apparently, the third rail has 750 volts running through it. If Wes would have touched it directly he would have been killed instantly. If his foot would have just nicked it as I was pulling him out, we both would have been killed. I was dumbfounded. I had almost left Alicia a widow at age 26.
I’ll talk a bit more later about what I learned from this whole ordeal and other thoughts about it. But I just wanted to get the story down first.
I just found this video on Youtube: