The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

A Real Hero
Mike Rappaport

It is easy to be cynical in this world, but we shouldn't be too cynical: there really are heroes out there. 

Consider this story:

Wesley Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran, faced both those questions in a flashing instant yesterday, and got his answers almost as quickly.

Mr. Autrey was waiting for the downtown local at 137th Street and Broadway in Manhattan around 12:45 p.m. He was taking his two daughters, Syshe, 4, and Shuqui, 6, home before work.

Nearby, a man collapsed, his body convulsing. Mr. Autrey and two women rushed to help, he said. The man, Cameron Hollopeter, 20, managed to get up, but then stumbled to the platform edge and fell to the tracks, between the two rails.

The headlights of the No. 1 train appeared. “I had to make a split decision,” Mr. Autrey said.

So he made one, and leapt.

Mr. Autrey lay on Mr. Hollopeter, his heart pounding, pressing him down in a space roughly a foot deep. The train’s brakes screeched, but it could not stop in time.

Five cars rolled overhead before the train stopped, the cars passing inches from his head, smudging his blue knit cap with grease. Mr. Autrey heard onlookers’ screams. “We’re O.K. down here,” he yelled, “but I’ve got two daughters up there. Let them know their father’s O.K.” He heard cries of wonder, and applause.

Let me tell you, as someone who has waited on many subway stations, including I believe that one, I really do not think I would have done what Wesley Autry did (nor would I have known how to save the man and myself).  This is quite extraordinary.  The man deserves the admiration and praise of everyone.  Through his deed and example, he makes the world a better place.

Who knows why some men are heroes.  But my guess is that it has something to do with the fact that he had been in the Navy.

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Mike Rappaport


Mr. Autrey is a hero.

If one knew what the actual train clearances are, one might be able to save one's own life or that of others if the need arises.

As it is, I wonder:

- In NYC, there seems to be a slim slot or concavity underneath the edge of the platforms. If one is down in the tracks, is it possible to hug that concavity as the train wheels go by? I'd still be in terror of the wheels catching on to a piece of clothing...

- What is the clearance between the rail ties or sleepers and the railcars? Apparently sufficient for two stacked men to lie, since Mr. Autrey survived... but is this clearance consistent everywhere in the system?

Posted by: xavier | Jan 3, 2007 8:14:40 AM

The clearance is totally inconsistent, and is often hidden by standing water. It's sometimes a foot, it's sometimes six inches.

You can't fit a human body in the concavity under the platform. There's much less room than there appears, and bits of the train's undercarriage extend into that space. You'll be hooked and dragged.

Your best hope for survival is actually step into the opposite lane of traffic, and hope you have enough time to climb out of that tube and back onto the platform before another train comes along.

Mr Autrey's heroism is well beyond praiseworthy.

Posted by: ecv | Jan 3, 2007 8:31:22 AM

Surely the guy didn't do it to get a reward; heros never do. Still, it would be nice to hear that Donald Trump or Mayor Bloomberg, or a few other rich New Yorkers, who have billions, set up a trust fund for this guy and his family. They could set up a trust fund that gave the guy and his family about $50,000 a year and never miss the money. The guy acted spontaneously, out of a sense of doing the right thing. I'd like to see someone act spontaneously and do the right thing by him.

Posted by: fred | Jan 3, 2007 8:38:47 AM

Fred, without being dismissive or trite, the reward for his heroism is apparent:

The man lived.

Posted by: Mark G | Jan 3, 2007 8:49:30 AM


Words fail me. Except to say Mr. Autrey is a better man than I.

Posted by: omvi | Jan 3, 2007 9:06:31 AM

Nort just New York - Thankfully there are sorts of Mr Autrey in the world. Private citizens, soldiers, police fire confirms to me that the vast majority of the world people are decent people.,CST-NWS-hero03.article

Posted by: Jim Carmignani | Jan 3, 2007 9:46:07 AM

"Hero" is a word used too lightly these days, but in this case it's perfect. Call him back to duty for an hour and award him a Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Posted by: htom | Jan 3, 2007 10:38:16 AM

What a very cool story!

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Jan 3, 2007 10:45:38 AM

If it had happened at that station five or 10 years ago, they both would have died -- the line is part of the original route built in 1904, which used to have full-width railroad ties, as on above-ground rail lines. By the 1930s, the lines being built had concrete half-ties with a drainage area in-between the rails, and the MTA just got around to rehabbing the oldest routes on the system a few years ago, putting in the drainage space which allowed Autrey and Hollopeter enough room to avoid being struck by the train passing overhead.

Posted by: John | Jan 3, 2007 11:23:11 AM

In a crisis, you will not rise to the occasion, you will revert to your level of training.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot | Jan 3, 2007 3:04:18 PM

God Bless Him

Posted by: Zax | Jan 7, 2007 3:22:36 PM

hello, i like this post because has useful information.

Posted by: Invertir en oro | May 11, 2011 1:42:14 PM