When Lewis Medina saw a jeep stranded on the train tracks near his home in the far western county of Kane on Saturday night, he knew he had to get the driver out before a train arrived.
But before he could unbutton the man, Medina saw the light of a freight train descending on them.
What happened next was a dramatic rescue that saved the life of a 72-year-old man from Aurora.
Kane County Sheriff’s Office said the rescue came shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Saturday after a man turned west from Barnes Road in the town of Sugar Grove to the railroad. He continued to ride the Chevy Blazer’s wheels on the outside of the rails before the vehicle settled on top of the tracks.
Medina was driving her daughter and grandson home when she crossed the tracks that are right on the road from where she lives. He saw the car stuck on the rails with the tires spinning.
He turned his car around, parked it in a safe place, and went to check on the driver.
Medina says he found the man sitting in his car clutching the steering wheel. He was conscious, but not very responsive. Medina called 911 and urged the driver to get out of the car before the train arrived.
“Then I look to the right and suddenly a train comes here,” he said.
Medina said there was panic.
“I knew it was close, but I couldn’t leave it on the runways. There was no way,” he said. “I had to get him out.”
Hearing the train’s horn as he approached, Medina grabbed the man in a “bear hug,” thinking he would wrap his arms around Medina’s neck.
“His hands were like noodles and he fell like an anchor right between the tracks,” he said.
Medina heard the horn again.
“I don’t know how I got it because I know it has to be £ 250,” he said. “The angels of the Lord must have been right there.”
Medina said he grabbed the man’s pants and arm and tossed him on the side of the runways.
But Medina knew they were still too close.
“So I threw him down the hill, and as soon as I went down the hill, bam, it was over,” he said. “I looked to the right and the train crashed the car.
“It was a matter of seconds.”
Medina, 60, said the whole chaotic scene lasted several minutes and no other cars passed during his dramatic rescue.
“God put me there to help,” he said. “If it had been 10 minutes earlier to take them home, or 10 minutes later, it would have been a different story because there were no cars, no one else to help.”
“It’s like what you see in the movies,” Sheriff Ron Hane said Wednesday. “We are so lucky that a good Samaritan passed by and noticed a truck stuck on the rails and decided to jump into action.”
Medina stayed with the driver until lawmakers arrived to help. No citations have been issued, sheriff’s officials said, and lawmakers do not believe alcohol or drugs contributed.
Officials say the 72-year-old man appears to have experienced a medical episode before deviating from the trail.
Hane said Wednesday that the man is doing well.
Medina, meanwhile, is expected to receive the award at next month’s district council meeting, but he said he is certainly not seeking recognition.
“Honestly, I think most people would do that,” he said.
He didn’t even wake his wife when he got home to tell her that he had just saved a man’s life and nearly lost his own.
“I didn’t want to disturb her, so I just let her sleep,” he said. “I just waited until morning to tell her and she looked at me like, ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’ “
I said, “You would never sleep.”