I’m on live in 21 minutes on Dr. Drew’s show on HLN (9PM) EST. They’ve asked me to talk about My 15 Minutes of Fame. I’m nervous.
Tag Archives: subway rescue
Seriously, who is making these decisions to allow stutterers on the air? : )
Instead of people simply seeing this story on TV and saying, “Oh it’s nice that someone out there is brave,” I wish they would say, “it’s nice to see a reminder that we are a brave and caring people.” We are. You are. That’s the message that I wish the news coverage would talk about more. Stories of ordinary people being brave broadcasts that secret. I am the same philosophizing-goofball I was when I was waiting anxiously for the train. My ensuing actions say something about all of us, about average people. We rise to occasions. It would be absurd to think, for example, that the folks on flight 93, which crashed in PA on 9/11, who acted way braver than me, were by some fluke of travel planning in the top 1% of brave people in the country, or even the top 10% or 30%. Nah. They were most likely a swath of regular folks. This tells me that the average Joe can be counted on to be brave and is most likely capable of incredible human kindnesses. So what do we do with that? I think we should treat each other with the respect that brave people deserve and take some comfort from the fundamental decency that pervades our society–though too often in secret.
Some disagree. They say I have to look no further than the people in the video just standing around and not helping. There were hundreds of people there just watching, they say. What about the guy who filmed it? What decent human being chooses to film instead of help?
But what should they have done? What is helpful in that situation? Even in retrospect, in the calm of my living room, I have a hard time thinking up things they should have been doing. In the chaos of the moment, how can we expect people to have any clue what to do or even to know what is going on. People are always morally bound to do what they think is right, but if you have no idea what is right, you have no decision to make. Those of you who have read my manuscript know that if there is no decision to be made, then nothing can be revealed about a person’s character. If there is nothing you think you should do, it isn’t even possible to reveal how brave or cowardly you might be.
Ok. So why was I doing something:
1) Most people who watched the event unfold came later. Right when it happened, there were only a few people near where he fell in. Of those people, I was the first to react, but there were reasons for that.
2) I am physically fit. Maybe other people did not think they were capable of pulling someone up. I certainly wouldn’t want my wife jumping down there. The risk to herself would not be worth the small amount of help she could offer in grabbing him. (FYI, my wife laughed at this; she thinks it’s true.)
3) I ran up thinking that all it would take was jumping down and picking him up before the next train came. So, I became involved in the situation before I understood how dangerous it was.
4) Of the people there when he fell, I was likely one of the most trained people there and possibly the most experienced in life or death situations. I was a lifeguard in high school. On separate occasions, two kids who jumped in the pool not knowing how to swim. On one of my first days as Head Lifeguard, one girl fell off the high dive onto the concrete and was convulsing terribly. I remember running around like a chicken with my head cut off not really knowing what to do. I responded in ways I wish I didn’t, but I certainly learned from the situation. During high school I myself had several concussions. I also broke my arm in spectacular leaping fashion when I failed to see a big sewer drain opening up before me as I ran through woods at night. As I was being carried to the ambulance surrounded by friends, somebody on each side offered to hold my hand. I was so in shock that I apologized several times, saying how sorry I was that I could not hold the one person’s hand because when I did my arm hurt. Once my buddy stepped on some thick wire that speared his foot, and I had to pull it out for him. Twice I was attacked by a swarm of bees. Once my dad, another buddy, and I were almost killed when we were snorkeling and did not see the weather change and a storm pick up. In college, I was a volunteer firefighter for two years. I also took a 3 week course and became a Wilderness First Responder, kinda like an EMT for the woods. We did dozens of practice scenarios when somebody was hurt, and we had to respond appropriately. During college, I also checked a thief into some arcade machines as he was running away from police. In Buffalo, I almost drowned in the Niagara River, and I lived in an area where I could occasionally hear gunfire and hooliganism. In Atlanta, in the process of getting ACE certified, I took CPR training for the 4th time. And these are just the highlights. Maybe somebody on the platform from the start had more pressure situation experience and training than me. Maybe not. But I know that that background is what allowed me to stay calm and talk the guy through it. I know it’s what made me realize that he probably did not even know where he was and probably could not deduce it in his present state with the cacophony of noise around him, or at least that had been my experience when I was in shock. (Still it is entirely possible that what I did was INCREDIBLY stupid. I think in firefighter training I was told not to grab people who were being shocked. Oops.)
When somebody freezes in a pressure situation. It does not mean they are not brave. It means that they have no idea what to do. They still really want to help, and they think they should be helping, but they have no idea what to do. I only knew what to do, or had an opinion about what I should do, because of my experience.
Ultimately, I think it is likely that not a single person at the incident knew exactly what they should do and yet failed to act out of fear and cowardice. If so, nobody there was cowardly at all, and the man who caught it on video did do some real good: the video-footage is proof for all of us that we are a brave and caring people.
At a news interview tonight, a reporter told me that police are charging Wes with public drunkenness, reckless endangerment, and something else I don’t remember. The reporter asked me to respond and I want to share:
I think almost dying and getting badly injured is disincentive enough to provide behavioral change. Assuming that he is not totally heartless, I am sure he also feels extremely embarrassed and ashamed to have endangered others. I think our sense of justice in America can sometimes miss the mark. My mother crashed her car last year, no other vehicles involved, in which her car was totaled, and she was almost killed. She got a ticket and had to pay a considerable fine. This sort of event or way of thinking is not uncommon. It’s not the policeman’s fault. It’s our way of thinking as a society that is to blame. That is what I want to change.
The reporter also asked me: Would you have done what you did if you knew that he was drunk?
My answer: Absolutely. I make mistakes all the time. Do you? When I have fallen, physically and metaphorically, people have been there to help me up. I had all the same problems with selfishness, greed, lust, pride, and bad-decision making before this event, and I still have them. When I make my next mistake, when you do, we hope someone is there to pick us up.
I was sad to see in some of the comments on the youtube video that people were viciously ridiculing Wes for what has been said he did. I try to stay away from biblical allusions, as I am rarely confident of God’s meaning, but it seems so appropriate here. In John 8, Jesus was asked what to do about a criminal (there’s more to this story but irrelevant to the present purpose). The law said that the criminal should be stoned. Jesus said, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.” Of course we need laws and punishment, but maybe sometimes punishment is more unjust than no punishment.
Even if we did find someone who did not make mistakes, I imagine that person would also be wise enough to understand the beauty and importance of each individual. When we make mistakes, we do not become suddenly worthless. We are beautiful, maturing, and imperfect individuals. Again, please do not judge a person based on one time events. That also applies to me. I am not defined by one act of heroism either.
Besides, what active and adventuresome person has not ridden MARTA and wondered if they were capable of clearing those tracks? I certainly have.
2 housekeeping notes:
- I made a “Subway Incident” page (link above) as a receptacle for all links and things related to what happened on Sunday and the aftermath. I’ll be posting about it less often, the worthy posts might wind up there, and I’ll try to keep that page current with the interviews and stuff that I am doing on-air and not.
- Alicia has decided that if several hundred people are going to be looking at my blog regularly or irregularly, it should be a bit more presentable. She reads my stuff and edits at her leisure. So, if you read something riddled with errors and idiocy, it means it is unadulterated Jer.
I’ll have some reflections on this whole experience up soon.
FYI, Fox5/WAGA TV Reporter Aungelique Proctor and cameraman Gerard came to my house and interviewed me about the incident. It should be on at 5pm tonight, and I think 6pm too. They think they can get the feed from the subway cameras that should cover the whole incident.
Time for me to find out how much I’m making up : )
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: