The day an everyday hero saved a homeless man

The man stood bent at the waist, but sideways, as if he were doing some kind of deep stretching.

He was incoherent and filthy, his trousers around his ankles, but boxer shorts intact. Asleep on his feet with his head buried in his puffy coat, he leaned with an arm outstretched against a metal pillar.

The pillar, deep below ground in the Second Avenue subway station in Manhattan, New York, was all that stood between him and the platform edge and the tracks of the Brooklyn-bound F train.

It was Saturday afternoon, April 29. Everyone who came down the stairs to the platform saw him, myself included, and everyone did the same thing. Watched him.

He just swayed side to side, his full weight against the pillar.

Maybe some people thought about approaching him - as I did - and took another look at those fallen trousers, the streaked pale legs - as I did - and decided to keep their distance. I did.

A few women walked over to the emergency call box and spoke to someone through a speaker.

They said a homeless man looked as if he might fall on the tracks.

A few minutes passed this way.

And then it happened. The man lurched and lost his hold on the pillar and plunged over the edge of the platform to the tracks below.

What happens when someone falls on the tracks and cannot save himself? What would you do if you were there? What if a train is coming? Which one is the electrified - and fatal - third rail?

These stories typically have two endings and I have written them both. The happy endings introduce another stranger to the ranks of that New York subset of rescuers, the subway hero.

I interviewed one, an actor named Chad Lindsey, in 2009 after he jumped down and pulled a drunken man out of the path of a train in Pennsylvania Station.

He in turn evoked the name of another, Wesley Autrey, who a couple of years earlier had laid down on top of a man having a seizure between the rails and waited as a train passed over them.

Lindsey had no warning that day - the guy was not there one second, and on the tracks the next.

On that afternoon at Second Avenue, we all watched a similar situation play out.

Time slowed. A woman screamed.

I pulled my messenger bag off my shoulder and let it drop. I was aware, behind me, of another woman shouting into the call box.

There were a dozen or more people nearby. I distinctly remember a man yelling: "For God's sake, stay away from that third rail!"

I ran to the edge of the platform where the man had fallen.

He was coming towards me - not because he had suddenly sobered up but because there was another man down there already, pushing him towards safety.

I bent down and grabbed two fistfuls of puffy coat below his shoulders. Other hands reached down on either side of me and grabbed too.

We all pulled without a word and up he came. We dragged him away from the edge.

I looked back for the second man, but he was not on the tracks. He had vaulted back up to safety.

People clapped, shouted and smiled at one another.

The young man who had jumped down to help, wearing a green jacket, walked around in circles by himself, shaking a little.

Two Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers appeared and spoke to the homeless man who had pulled his trousers up.

I am okay, he told them.

I am just dirty.

You cannot stay here, they told him. You have to go back up to the street.

A police officer arrived and I lost track of the man.

I approached the rescuer in the green jacket and introduced myself. His name is David Capuzzo, 26. He was coming from his job waiting tables at Rosie's, a Mexican restaurant just outside the station entrance above.

He was born in Bogota, Colombia, and adopted by American parents.

He was raised in the suburbs in New England. He is an illustrator, lives in Brooklyn and waits tables to make extra money.

"I see the guy," he said. "I pictured myself helping him, but I didn't. I just kept looking back at him and looking at everybody else look at him."

Eventually, he lost interest.

"I got caught up on my phone." Then: "I heard all those ladies yell."

Capuzzo saw the man on the tracks. "He was hunched over," he said. "He's kind of, like, wobbling."

He said he called out: "Press the button! Press the button!" and walked in a quick circle.

Then, he acted.

"I just jumped down," he said.

"I grabbed, like, his legs together and I stood up. This is a time-sensitive issue. I don't know where the train is."

He shouted: "Help him up!"

He felt the man rise from his arms, lifted to the platform and then made his own escape.

"I jumped up, like, no problem," he said. "I hurt my hand a little bit."

It all happened so quickly, it was a blur - Capuzzo is not even certain he was the only person who jumped down to help.

Several minutes later, the F train, in typical weekend fashion, finally arrived, its potential victim long gone. Capuzzo got out after a few stops. He texted his girlfriend: "Guy fell so I had to jump on the tracks, now I have a cut on my hand."

He called his mother.

Both were upset with him at first, "mad I jumped on the tracks in the first place", he said, but more thankful he was okay.

In the days since, he has looked for the homeless man near the subway. No sightings yet.

The man looked so incoherent, he might not even remember what happened. He most likely would not recognise the man who jumped down and helped him.

Capuzzo said before he jumped, he remembered an old public service announcement: "Twenty people are thinking someone else called about the gas leak."

He recalled thinking: "If nobody does anything, he's going to die."

He did something.

And, some day, another person will save someone on the tracks, and that tale will be told, and that rescuer might look back and remember the one from 2017, and the part about the trousers around the ankles.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 14, 2017, with the headline 'The day an everyday hero saved a homeless man'. Print Edition | Subscribe