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Video shows man falling onto MARTA tracks, passengers rushing to help

3:08 PM, Jul 3, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA, Ga. -- There was danger, heroism and a life saved, all on the MARTA tracks Monday afternoon.

A man fell onto the tracks at the Five Points Station in Downtown Atlanta, just as a train was approaching.

It was just after 5:00 p.m. The afternoon rush hour.

MARTA surveillance video shows many bystanders rushing in to help save the man.

And they did save him.

He is Kenneth Hunter, 50, of Decatur.

Hunter spoke Tuesday of how grateful he is to all those total strangers who risked their lives to save his.

But he struggled to put into words the story that the surveillance video does not show.

What is clearly obvious from the video is this:

Fate and lives intersected on the parallel tracks of MARTA's eastbound line that afternoon.

First, you can see Kenneth Hunter falling onto the platform and then falling to the side, off of the platform and out of sight and onto the tracks, just as the next eastbound train is approaching.

"I heard the screaming," said MARTA Police Officer Deonte Robinson Tuesday. He was one floor above the platform, and ran down the escalator, "and I see a patron on the tracks, and at the same time I see a train approaching."

As Officer Robinson ran toward the edge of the platform, he was calling on his radio for the power to be shut off, to prevent Hunter from being electrocuted by the third rail, and to stop the on-coming train.

Then Robinson jumped onto the tracks to get Hunter out, before he knew if the power was off.

"I didn't know when I came down if the power had been cut or not. I just saw a patron in distress" and he jumped onto the tracks, instinctively knowing how to avoid contact with that third rail.

"We heard screams," said one of the passengers on the platform, Rob Roberts, "and a man had fallen in."

Roberts, of Warren, Michigan, is in Atlanta for a teachers' convention.

The video shows Roberts and other passengers rushing in to help.

At first, Roberts is on his knees, leaning down toward the tracks, trying to grab Hunter's hand, but "he wasn't responsive."

Then you can see Roberts jumping onto the tracks to help lift Hunter out, not knowing if he would touch the third rail while helping Hunter.

"There were other people trying to push him up at the time," Roberts said, "they were lifting him, and I kind of gave his backside an extra push to get him up there.... It was a little scary. And I wasn't sure, you know, jumping down there, whether or not the train was going to be on us. And then the train did come, but it stopped at the entrance."

Officer Robinson's quick response -- radioing fellow officers to cut the power at the same time he was rushing to assist Hunter -- might have saved many lives in addition to Hunter's.

"It was a team effort," said Officer Robinson, "from the supervisors down to my fellow officers. If it wasn't for the quick thinking of Officer White who directed Officer Littles to hit the trip-switch to cut the power, maybe the outcome wouldn't have been so great. Also we had a lot of heroic patrons that also helped save the guy from the tracks. It was a team effort."

Then -- the investigation.

The police report says Hunter "had a strong alcohol odor on his breath."

So officers decided they had to charge Hunter with public drunkenness, and with reckless conduct that put other lives at risk to save his.

Tuesday evening, I found Kenneth Hunter back home at his small apartment in Decatur, where he lives alone.

He spoke with me only because, he said, he wanted to express his appreciation for his rescuers.

"I don't know how I slipped, but I fell, there," Hunter said.

Hunter was deeply apologetic, and grateful.

And I could not help but see, on the walls and shelves of his apartment, 20-year-old photos and commendations -- personal and official records of service in the U.S. Army that speak silently and powerfully about his life long before that life-threatening, Monday mishap on the MARTA tracks. A life Hunter was reluctant to discuss.

He is a retired Army Major, a veteran of the first war in Iraq.

And I saw 20-year-old war wounds, including his right knee shattered by enemy gunfire. And in his face I saw 20-year-old memories of service to his country, and I saw pain and embarrassment from his one-day-old memory.

Pain pills, he said -- he'd had an unexpected, bad reaction to prescription pain pills on that MARTA platform, "and had me kind of, like, intoxicated."

"So it was pills?"

"Correct."

"Not alcohol?"

"No, it was pills."

Army Major Kenneth Hunter (Ret.) is ready to face a judge about what made him lose his balance Monday afternoon and fall onto those tracks.

But he wanted to say Thank You to Officer Robinson, and to Rob Roberts, and to all the others --
who didn't know they were risking their lives for a troubled man who once risked his, for theirs.

"They took care of me, I'm alive, now.... They came in there and took care of everything, and I'm grateful."

WXIA

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