Glenbrook North senior honored with Citizen's Lifesaving Award
Jack Fitzharris and his friends had a feeling something wasn't quite right.
Somewhere out there, a man might owe them his life for noticing.
Fitzharris, a senior at Glenbrook North, was driving home from a friend's house earlier this summer with two friends in his car.
Driving through Bannockburn, at the intersection of Half Day and Waukegan roads, they saw a car that had driven off the road and onto railroad tracks just west of the intersection parallel to Waukegan Road. Fitzharris noticed a person in the vehicle, but said there was no movement inside.
"The first thing that went through my mind when I saw the car on the tracks was suicide," Fitzharris said of the July 9 incident. "I got scared and it just kind of kicked in, like I had to call the cops."
Fitzharris turned on his car's hazard lights, pulled into a nearby gas station and used his cellphone to call the police. While he called, he saw the railroad barricades crossing Half Day Road lowering.
Police sprang into action. According to a CBS 2 Chicago news report and video on Sept. 25, Deerfield Police officer Kasey Kuhlers saw an oncoming train and repeatedly flashed his spotlight at the engineer. He sped along Waukegan Road to attempt to draw the engineer's attention and stop the train.
Meanwhile, Bannockburn police arrived and attended to the car stalled on the tracks.
"I saw the police get there and they got the guy out of the car," said Fitzharris, reassured that his friends were there with him.
The train stopped about 600 feet from the car, CBS reported, noting the driver was arrested on charges of driving under the influence.
Once Fitzharris and his friends saw disaster had been averted, they went home.
The whole episode wasn't over, though.
"The first time I was called by police to say I saved this guy's life, they were telling me he didn't even know he was on the train tracks," Fitzharris said.
The Glenbrook North senior got a subsequent call, with more good news, this one from the Federal Railroad Administration. And on Sept. 29 at the Deerfield Police Station, Fitzharris and Kuhlers each were awarded a Citizen's Lifesaving Award by the Federal Railroad Administration. It was Kuhlers' fifth live-saving award, a Deerfield Police official said.
"In appreciation of your prompt and selfless act of rendering aid and assistance to a fellow citizen that resulted in the saving of a life," the plaque stated.
Joining Fitzharris were his father, Kevin, his mother, Susan, and Glenbrook North baseball coach Dom Savino. Jack Fitzharris is a shortstop whose abilities have drawn college interest.
This was his first brush with drama of this sort.
"I just try to do what's best," Fitzharris said.
"To me it wasn't about the award, I didn't need any of that, I didn't need any recognition. I just wanted to make sure everything was OK, like get him out a harm's way.
"It kind of just, like, happened. It was my first thought, like I had to do something."