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There's A Girl On The Tracks!

"THERE'S A GIRL ON THE TRACKS! BY: WARREN R. YOUNG
 
It was a moment frozen in time by terror. Nearly 100 People waiting on the subway platform beneath New York's 86th Street and Lexington Avenue stood transfixed. A few screamed, but they could barely be heard. For, thundering into the station at 30 m.p.h. was a heavily laden, rush-hour Train-a Million Pounds of screeching stainless steel and fateful momentum. And in its path, the onlookers could see a young Man, his face pale with concentration, trying to jump up from the tracks four feet below.
With terrible certainty, they could see that he was not likely to make it. The Train was hurtling toward him, ponderously swaying to within an inch or two of the metal-capped edge of the platform, like a Gargantuan Sausage Slicer. The Man's first jump carried him only high enough for his chest to strike the edge of the platform, and he fell back to the track.
Now the Train was merely feet away. He gathered himself for one last desperate attempt. Then he felt himself rising, and it seemed just possible after all that at least his torso might get clear. But the last thought he had before the Train reached the spot was "There go my legs!"
Less than two minutes earlier, 34-year-old Everett Sanderson, an Unemployed Musician, had been on his way home after visiting his Mother. It was 5:10 P.M., January 16, 1975, and around him swirled the normal evening bustle, as People hurried down from the City's Streets or up the stairs from the Express-Train level below. About every 2 1/2 minutes, at this time of day, another Local Train came through, and one of them had left half a minute before.
At this moment, chance was guiding several strangers-and one particular Train-each on a path that would soon converge with Everett's. Changing from Express to Local was 20-year-old Miguel Maisonett, a slender, clean-cut black youth sporting a neat Afro hairdo. Miguel was deep in thought about his future. He had just collected his final paycheck as a City Health-Department Rat Inspector; his job had been eliminated because of spending cutbacks. Ever since age 15, when he had dropped out of School to support himself and his younger Brother(who had continued through High School and was now in College), Miguel had manged; but now jobs were scarce.
Approaching the stairs leading up to the same Uptown-Local platform was Transit Patrolman Rex Johnson, on his beat. Coming through the turnstiles was Mrs. Joanna DeJesus, whose right eye was bandaged from a recent operation. With her were her button-cute, four-year-old Daughter, Michelle, and Mrs. DeJesus's Sister, Margarita Esquilin.
Half a Mile to the South at 77th Street, in the front cab of his Train, 60-year-old Motorman Daniel Miller had just released the brakes in response to a green "all-clear-ahead" signal light. Now he swung the master-controller handle to the "power" position, sending 600 Volts of Direct Current into the 40 Electric Motors hooked to the Train's 40 Axles. The 70-second run through the tunnel to 86th Street had begun.
The DeJesus Trio moved through the thickening crowd and stopped about two feet from the bright yellow stripe painted along the platform's steel-capped edge. Just then, Michelle wriggled her hand free from her Mother's hopped toward the edge to look for the Train-but slipped and fell onto the tracks. The screams and shouts for help began: "There's a Girl on the tracks!" "Somebody save her!" "Save her!" All Mrs. deJesus could see was the bright-red coat and motionless form of her Child, face down on the wooden ties with her feet across the nearest rail.
Everett and Miguel, 85 feet apart, each stepped to the platform's edge to see what had happened. Everett was about 35 feet uptown from the center of the commotion, Miguel 50 feet below. Both could see the helpless figure on the tracks. And both expected somebody in the crowd to jump down and pick up the stunned Child.
Fifteen seconds passed. The crowd felt a gush of wind caused by the oncoming Train, then heard the first distant grumble as it barreled through the rock-walled tunnel toward them. Down on the tracks, Michelle began to rouse. Her eyes tightly closed, she cried, "Mommy! Mommy!"
The shouts for somebody to save the little Girl kept up, but nobody moved. Ten more seconds ticked by-it was almost half a minute since the fall. Then Everett, his own Son in the custody of his ex-wife, asked himself, "What if it was my Child down there?" And in a jumble of gallantry and foolhardiness, he jumped down to the tracks and started running.
Years ago, as an Ohio Schoolboy, Everett had played Football and Basketball and once, at a track meet, had carried off all the Awards. But he had never run in conditions like these, dressed in a heavy jacket, down in the trough of a subway-and with a little Girl's life at stake.
On the other side of the crowd, Miguel, too, had decided to try to save the Girl. Unlike Everett, however, he was thoroughly familiar with the tracks, for as a Boy he and his friends, in a Dare Devil Game, used to jump down and run across them between Trains. Now, he leaped down and began sprinting.
By the time Miguel had run ten feet, he could hear the sound of the Train swelling hugely in the tunnel behind him. He knew that it would reach the station in seconds. But then he saw the other Man running toward him, closer to Michelle and with a better chance of reaching her. With an easy vault perfected by years of Boyhood practice, Miguel swung his body up onto the platform.
by this time, Officer Johnson was up the stairs and aware of the desperate situation. He knew there was no way to cut off the power from the station, nor any fast way for him to contact the Train to stop it. Headlight flashes flickered in the dark tunnel, and the noise level rose. Facing the unseen Train and waving his flashlight from side to side, as regulation prescribed for an Emergency, the six-foot-three-inch, 200-pound Officer began running backward, shouting, "Stand clear! Get back, everybody!" The Train would reach the station in about ten seconds.
Motorman Miller, at this point, had been pouring power into the 4000-Horsepower Electric Motors to carry the Train up and over a steep little slope in fron of the 86th Street station. Because of this incline, Miller could neigher see Officer Johnson's warning flashlight not yet peer into the station to spot any trouble. Near the station entrance, he cut off the power Normally, the Train would be allowed to coast far into the station, then gradually be braked.
Miller's 25 years of bringing Subway Trains into stations had taught him never to be surprised to see objects in his Train's path. Usually, they were unimportant. Newspapers blowing along the rails were commonplace. Once in a while, however, an "object" might be Human-Two or Three Suicides had jumped to their Deaths under his wheels, waiting until the last instant when he could do nothing. And, once, a Drunk on the tracks was saved by Miller's quick stop. So now, as always, his righ hand was firmly wrapped around the brake lever.
everett was so busy running that he never saw Miguel hop down and back up, nor did he notice Officer Johnson waving his light. All his thoughts were focused on the Girl. She was still 20 feet away when he suddenly felt the asphalt tremble. Two brilliant headlights glared in his eyes as the front of the Train, 12 feet tall and 9 feet wide, abruptly filled the mouth of the tunnel.
The 240 feet now separating the Train from little Michelle looked like far less to Everett, as the Monster rumbled toward him still going almost 30 m.p.h., or 44 feet every second. Everett could see the Motorman, his expressionless face giving no sign that he saw anybody on the track, looking even more remote because he was so far up-his feet, like those of the People on the platform, were about at Everett's eye level. Everett kept running.
Sometime during the first two seconds after the Train entered the station, Motorman Miller spotted the Child and the Man on the tracks. He slammed the brake handle into "Emergency Stop," locking all the Train's wheels. Sparks flew like fireworks as they skidded, grinding their metal against the rails with a tortured screech. Immediately, the Train slowed, but it would still pass the spot where Michelle lay in only five seconds!
Everett was only a step from Michelle. In the Train Cab, Motorman Miller silently Prayed, "Oh, God, I hope I don't hit them!" On the platform, Miguel was also in the path of the Train, kneeling and leaning over the edge toward Everett with outstretched arms. With three seconds to go, Everett seized Michelle in his right hand and, possessed of a strength he never knew he had, hurled her into Miguel's waiting arms. The impact knocked Miguel onto his back, with the Child sprawled on his chest, safe at last.
For the first time, Everett recognized his own predicament. The Train's speed had by this time been cut in half-to 16 m.p.h., or some 24 feet per second-but it was 40 feet away. There were two seconds to go.
Everett placed his hands on the edge of the platform, jumped for his life-and failed. By now, there was a single second left before the Train would pass the spot where he was. Everett got ready for one last, desperate jump. Then, with the Train so close that its mammoth bulk seemed virtually on top of him, he felt himself rising like an elevator. Hands belonging to Officer Johnson, Michelle's Aunt Margarita, and Miguel were lifting him by the jacket and his arms. Everett hoped that his torso would clear the Train, but he felt sure his legs would be amputated.
As the Train passed, Motorman Miller lost sight of Everett. With a sinking feeling, he thought the first car must have caught Everett's legs and pulled him under. But he was puzzled by the absence of the familiar, sickening thud he always heard when a Train passed over the body of a Suicide. For more than three seconds, the Train kept skidding, Finally, it stopped, 26 feet beyond where Everett and Michelle had been. Miller stepped out on the platform to see what had happened.
A pile of Human Figures on the platform were struggling to their feet. The three rescuers had tugged so mightily on Everett that some of them fell-with Everett, unharmed, landing among them. (Later, he would find a mark made by the Train on the edge of his right shoe.) For the next few minutes, while Motorman Miller and Officer Johnson made sure of the happy outcome, the crowd patted Everett on the back and kept telling him he was a Hero. At last, everybody went on about his business-Miguel went home in a Taxi, Mrs. DeJesus took another Cab to the Hospital to make sure Michelle was not really hurt, Officer Johnson resumed his beat, and Motorman Miller announced that the Train would continue its regular run. Everett Sanderson got on the Train, too, and rode it to his stop.
The grateful New york Transit Authority presented Everett and Miguel with Medals for Civilian Heroism, plus a Five-Year Pass for free subway travel for Miguel and a Lifetime Pass for Everett. Miguel found a job in the Mailroom of the Transit Authority. Everett, for his part, decided to pursue a new career, in the Nutrition Field, and trained for it, riding the subway to class. In addition, he was presented the Prestigious Bronze Lifesaving Medal of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission and a $1,000 Check.
"I don't know whether this has changed my life," says Everett.
"I know it almost ended it. But if I hadn't tried to save that little Girl, if I had just stood there like the others, I would have died inside. I would have been no good to myself from then on." 

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Shirley Ruth Caron * 1221A Community Place * Indianapolis, IN 46227