A working-class hero

NEW YORK — Ordinary working people can do extraordinary things.

Wesley Autrey, an African American NYC union construction worker, proved that Jan. 2 when he jumped in front of a speeding subway train to rescue a stricken man.

Cameron Hollopeter, who is white, had a seizure in a Harlem subway station and fell onto the tracks, where he convulsed on the track bed, his body thrashing across the rails as a train entered the station. Autrey, leaving his two young daughters in the care of other adults on the subway platform, leaped onto the tracks.

Autrey, 50, tried to carry Hollopeter to safety, but unable to lift the stricken man, made a split-second decision: He put himself on top of Hollopeter in the shallow drainage trough between the rails. Although the train operator applied emergency brakes as soon as he saw the situation, momentum carried the massive train toward them.

As the train bore down, Autrey cradled Hollopeter in his arms, holding his convulsing body down in the trough. Before the train came to a stop, several rail cars had passed over them, missing Autrey’s head by a mere fraction of an inch. Remarkably, both men emerged unscathed.

Autrey then went off to work, where he was working on renovations at a local elementary school, as if it were any other day.

Although Autrey, a Laborers Local 79 member, has been hailed in the media and by the public and has received a steady stream of gifts and accolades, he has taken all the acclaim in stride, saying that anybody would have done the same.

New York’s tabloid press hailed Autrey as a hero, and for once they had it right.

gbono @ cpusa.org