Subway hero: 'I had to decide, do I let the train run him over'

An act of heroism saved the life of a man who fell on to a subway track in New York
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The Independent US

For one young man in New York, the gods of good and ill fortune struck at once. The bad news came when he suffered a seizure on a subway platform in Harlem on Tuesday afternoon, a medical crisis that sent him stumbling on to the rails below. The good news was that Wesley Autrey was standing near by.

What transpired at 12.45pm at the 137th Street Station on Number 1 line has cast Mr Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker and veteran of the US Navy, into the role of self-deprecating hero. He continues to insist he did nothing to deserve special acclaim. Most New Yorkers beg to differ. And all were asking themselves the same question yesterday: if they had been in Mr Autrey's shoes, would they have done the same?

Mr Autrey was on his way to Times Square to drop off his daughters, Syshe, four, and Shuqui, six, with their mother before going to work. But before a train arrived, his eye was caught by the young man having the fit. He went to his aid, putting a pen in his mouth to stop him swallowing his tongue. The man, Cameron Hollopeter, a 20-year-old student from Massachusetts attending the New York Film Academy, came to and struggled to his feet. But as he did so, he fell over the platform's edge.

"I had a split-second decision to make," Mr Autrey said later. "Do I let the train run him over and hear my daughters screaming and see the blood? Or do I jump in?" Leaving the girls behind, he opted for action. At first he tried to heave Mr Hollopeter back to the platform, but the confused and frightened man began to struggle. Both men risked touching the third rail, charged with 600 volts.

It was then that Mr Autrey saw the twin headlights of a train bearing down on them from the tunnel. In an instant, he had thrown Mr Hollopeter into a 12-inch drainage trough between the rails and leapt in after him. "I just chose to dive on top of him and pin him down."

Mr Hollopeter, slammed into the gulley on his back, continued to struggle with his saviour. The two were lying face-to-face, the rumbling of the train filling the station, when the Navy veteran blurted: "Please don't move. If you move, one of us going to lose a leg or die."

The train driver saw the entwined bodies and slammed on the emergency brakes. But moving too fast, the train stopped only after at least two of its 10 cars had already passed over them. The space between them and the train's underbelly and couplings was no more than two inches.

"Am I dead?" Mr Hollopeter asked, according to Mr Autrey, who recalled what happened to the Daily News. "I said, 'No, we're under the train'." Mr Autrey then yelled to passengers on the platform to be silent. He was worried about his girls. "I've got two daughters up there. Let them know their father's OK."

The station filled with applause. Twenty minutes later ­ the time it took to turn off the power ­ Mr Autrey emerged to be reunited with his daughters. Mr Hollopeter was sedated and taken to hospital where he remained under observation yesterday. His mother, Rachel Hollopeter, spoke for most of the city, calling Mr Autrey an "angel". She added: "If he wasn't there, this would be a whole different call."

But Mr Autrey would have none of it. "I don't feel like I did something spectacular. I just saw someone who needed help."

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