When Lewis Medina saw an SUV stuck on the train tracks near his far western Kane County home on Saturday night, he knew he had to get the driver out before a train came.
But before he could get the man unbuckled, Medina saw the light of a freight train bearing down on them.
What happened next was a dramatic rescue that saved the life of a 72-year-old Aurora man.
Kane County sheriff’s officials said the rescue happened shortly after 8:30 p.m. Saturday after a man turned west from Barnes Road in Sugar Grove Township onto the railroad tracks. He continued driving with the Chevy Blazer’s wheels on the outside of the rails before the vehicle became lodged on top of the tracks.
Medina was driving his daughter and grandson home when he crossed the tracks, which are just down the road from where he lives. He saw the vehicle stuck on the tracks with the tires spinning.
He turned his car around, parked it in a safe spot and went to check on the driver.
Medina says he found the man sitting up in his car, clutching the steering wheel. He was conscious but not very responsive. Medina called 911 and urged the driver to get out of the car before a train came.
“Then I look to my right, and all of a sudden here comes a train,” he said.
Medina said panic set in.
“I knew it was close, but I couldn’t leave him on the tracks. There was no way,” he said. “I had to get him out.”
Hearing the train’s horn as it got closer, Medina grabbed the man in a “bear hug,” thinking he would wrap his arms around Medina’s neck.
“His arms were like noodles, and he fell like an anchor straight in between the tracks,” he said.
Medina heard the horn again.
“I don’t know how I picked him up because I know he’s got to be 250 pounds,” he said. “The angels of the Lord must have been right there.”
Medina said he grabbed the man’s pants and his arm and slung him off to the side of the tracks.
But Medina knew they were still too close.
“So I rolled him down the hill, and as soon as I get down the hill, bam, it was over,” he said. “I looked up to the right, and the train smashed the car.
“It was a matter of seconds.”
Medina, 60, said the whole chaotic scene lasted all of a couple of minutes and no other cars drove by during his dramatic rescue.
“The Lord put me there to help,” he said. “If it had been 10 minutes sooner to take them home, or 10 minutes after, it would have been a different story because no cars came by -- nobody else there to help.”
“It’s like what you see in the movies,” Sheriff Ron Hain said Wednesday. “We are so fortunate that a good Samaritan was passing by and noticed the truck stuck on the tracks and decided to jump into action.”
Medina stayed with the driver until deputies arrived to render aid. No citations have been issued, sheriff’s officials said, and deputies do not believe alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor.
Officials say it appears the 72-year-old man experienced a medical episode before veering onto the tracks.
Hain said on Wednesday that the man is doing well.
Medina, meanwhile, is expected to receive an award during next month’s county board meeting, but he said he certainly wasn’t looking for any recognition.
“To be honest with you, I think that most people would have done this,” he said.
He didn’t even wake up his wife when he got home to tell her he had just saved a man’s life and nearly lost his own.
“I didn’t want to trouble her, so I just let her sleep,” he said. “I just waited till the morning to tell her, and she’s looking at me all crazy, like, ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
“I said, ‘You would have never gone back to sleep.’”