NEW YORK — Wesley Autrey said he made a quick decision to jump into a subway track to rescue a stranger from an ongoing train, an act he hopes other New Yorkers would follow.
“I did it out of a split-second reaction. And if I had to do it again, I probably would,” he said on CBS’ “The Early Show’ Thursday. “I was like, ’Wow, I got to go get this guy ... somebody’s gotta save this guy but I was the closest one.
“I’m still saying I’m not a hero ... ’cause I believe all New Yorkers should get into that type of mode,” the 50-year-old construction worker said. “You should do the right thing.”
Autrey’s phone has been ringing off the hook since he helped the man on Tuesday by pushing him into a gap between the rails. Some callers were complete strangers so inspired by his bravery that they offered rewards.
Besides appearing on several morning television shows Thursday, he was set to tape an appearance on David Letterman’s CBS “Late Show” and visited City Hall, where he was honored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Navy vet to the rescue
In hindsight, even Autrey was somewhat startled by his dramatic decision. But knowing he narrowly escaped injury or possibly death, he didn’t regret his choice.
“I did something to save someone’s life,” he said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, while waiting for a downtown Manhattan train, Autrey saw Cameron Hollopeter, a 19-year-old film student, suffering from some kind of medical episode. After stumbling down the platform, Hollopeter, of Littleton, Mass., fell onto the tracks with a train on its way into the station.
Autrey, traveling with his two young daughters, knew he had to do something.
“If I let him stay there by himself, he’s going to be dismembered,” the Navy veteran remembered thinking.
He jumped down to the tracks, a few feet below platform level, and rolled with the young man into a drainage trough — cold, wet and more than a little unpleasant smelling — between the rails as the southbound No. 1 train came into the 137th Street/City College station.
‘Instinctive, unselfish act’
The train’s operator saw someone on the tracks and put the emergency brakes on. Some train cars passed over Autrey and Hollopeter with only a couple of inches to spare, but neither man suffered any harm from the incident.
Hollopeter was taken to a nearby hospital; he is in stable condition on Thursday. Autrey refused medical attention — and then went to work.
Autrey went by the hospital Wednesday afternoon for a visit with Hollopeter and his family. Afterward, he and Hollopeter’s father addressed reporters.
“Mr. Autrey’s instinctive and unselfish act saved our son’s life,” Larry Hollopeter, his voice choking up, said Wednesday.
He’s going to Disney World
Autrey's exploits earned him the unique title "the hero of Harlem" plus $10,000 from Donald Trump and a trip to Disney World.
Mayor Bloomberg bestowed the title upon Autrey as he presented him with the city's highest award for civic achievement on Thursday, calling the 50-year-old construction worker "a great man — a man who makes us all proud to be New Yorkers."
Past recipients of the Bronze Medallion have included Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and Willie Mays. The last honoree was Housing Authority employee Felix Vasquez, who caught a baby thrown from a burning building in 2005.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director Elliot Sander called Autrey's action "a death-defying act of bravery. We truly have not seen anything like this. ... He was at the right place at the right time and did the right thing."
Autrey received a year's worth of free subway rides. He also has received $2,500 from the New York Film Academy to start a scholarship fund for his children, and tickets and a backstage tour to the Broadway musical "The Lion King."
Autrey will be flown to Los Angeles for an appearance next week on Ellen DeGeneres' show.
As for his new celebrity, he concluded, "good things happen when you do good."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.