How We Got The Story: Staying out of the way let hero's story emerge
It can be hard to write a news story without being there to experience what happened.
This happens frequently with spot news, especially with accidents. We rely on news releases and conversations with police to piece together the facts and inform the public. It can feel like an empty exercise.
So when something incredible happens, as when Lewis Medina pulled an unresponsive driver out of his vehicle stuck on train tracks in Aurora just seconds before it was hit by a train, you pray you get a chance to talk to the hero.
And when you do, it's best to just ask them what happened and get out of the way.
I got a note from my editor a couple of weeks ago seeing if I had time to make some calls about the incident. We didn't really know the extent of Medina's heroism at that point, but the feeling was it would make a nice story. The crash happened a few days prior and somehow had gone unnoticed by the media until that day. It wasn't part of my beat, but that's the way it is these days.
After a call to the Kane County Sheriff, who first checked with Medina to see if it was OK, we were able to get his contact information. I was told he wouldn't be available until after 5 p.m. since he was working, so I decided to send a text just to let him know I'd be in touch.
Luckily for me it was a rainy day, like so many lately, and Medina works construction and was off because of it. He said he was available to talk right away.
After a little small talk, I ask the one question that really matters -- Can you tell me what happened?
He started at the beginning and spun a tale that was right off the pages of a movie script. The hero sees the vehicle stuck on the tracks and presumes the driver must be in distress, so he jumps in to action. Of course nothing is easy -- the man is unresponsive due to a medical episode and he's a pretty big guy. Medina kept thinking to himself that he needed to find a way to get him out of the vehicle before a train came.
So of course you know what happens next in any good movie.
"Then I look to my right, and all of a sudden here comes a train," he said.
"I knew it was close, but I couldn't leave him on the tracks. There was no way," Medina told me. "I had to get him out."
I felt like I was watching the movie as he kept going.
Medina, 60, pulled the man from the vehicle, who fell "like an anchor" straight down on to the tracks. He said he was able to grab the man by his arm and pants and fling him off the tracks, but they were still too close. He rolled him down the hill seconds before the train smashed the car.
Just like in the movies.
I wrote the story as he told it with all the details he could remember. It happened quickly, he said, with the whole ordeal being over in just a couple of minutes. Like any good movie hero, he was reluctant to take any credit, saying anybody in his position would have done the same thing.
I wouldn't be so sure of that, Mr. Medina. Take the credit. You deserve it.