It was an early morning at Mount Vernon West Station, and the 6:17 a.m. to Grand Central Terminal was due on Track 4 in about seven minutes.
Michael Smith was waiting for the train that would take him to his job as Metro-North Coach Cleaner at Grand Central when he noticed a young man hanging off the edge of the platform.
Smith called out to him, "What is the matter?" The man responded, "I don’t want to live anymore." Alarmed, Smith told him a train would be coming soon, and he asked him to please get up. The man moved to sit on the platform, but his legs were still dangling off the edge.
It was Camille Johnson’s second day on the job of her new assignment as Metro-North Station Ambassador, when she saw what was happening from the outbound platform. "He was crying hysterically," said Johnson. Immediately concerned, she called over to the twentysomething man from across the track. "Can I help you, is everything okay?" she asked.
"No, it’s okay," the man replied, but he didn’t stop crying.
There wasn’t time for Johnson to run to the stairs to cross over and back to the Track 2 and 4 platform before the train came, so she used the most soothing voice she could muster, saying, "Everything is going to be okay, but please get off the edge of the platform." She continued to speak soothing words to him as best she could.
The young man finally got up, but he was frantic and started pacing back and forth on the platform, which made her worried. "I tried to keep eye contact, and I said, 'Tell me what’s going on,' and he replied, 'No you can’t help me.'" She noticed from his accent that he must be Jamaican, so she switched to her own Jamaican accent. "He became a little calmer then," she recounted.
At the time, MTA PD Capt. John Vallarelli was on his way to his office in the city, when he saw Johnson talking to the man, and saw that she had succeeded in getting him off the edge of the platform. But he could also see the man was still frantic.
"I grabbed my radio and called into MTAPD Emergency Operations for District 6 units to respond," said Vallarelli, who was dressed in civilian clothing and is the Program Administrator of MTAPD’s Metropolitan Regional Radio System. "I called to [the man] to come over, and he said to me, 'I don’t want to live anymore, I can’t handle this anymore.…' I asked him to breathe. He was crying, he had blood on his shirt, he stated he had gotten into a fight earlier and had broken his jaw."
Vallarelli and Johnson were concerned the man might jump when the train would come in on Track 4. Vallarelli also got the man to calm down and told him that he and Johnson were there for a reason; it just wasn’t his time to go. The man seemed to listen.
In the meantime, Smith, who was wearing his orange Metro-North safety vest, moved quickly towards the end of the platform to motion to the engineer in the approaching train to slow down. "Everything was happening so fast," he said. "By then I knew that Camille had calmed him down, but we were still concerned for his safety."
Michael Mooradian, Train 4502’s engineer, saw Smith, put his brakes on and slowed the train down to about 2 miles per hour. "[Smith] was waving his arms for us to stop," he recounted.
On the train, Assistant Conductor Michael Muzyka quickly assessed what was going on and radioed the Radio Traffic Controller to let them know the train would be held until the man was safe. As they opened the doors, both Smith and customers who had been waiting on the platform came to Muzyka to let him know that the young man was acting erratically. Conductor Conrad Boccone and his Assistant Conductor were apprised of the situation and responded to customer inquiries on the train.
Almost immediately after, MTA PD arrived to assist. Johnson came over from the other track to see the man face to face. The young man left peaceably with the officers and EMTs, but before he left, he was smiling; he gave Johnson a hug, and Vallarelli a fist bump.
As they exited the platform, the train resumed service to Grand Central Terminal.
Not bad for a day’s work when you can go home and tell your family, "Today I helped save a man’s life."
To report someone who appears to be crisis or in danger of hurting themselves in the vicinity of the train tracks, please call 911.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or are in danger, please text NEXT2U to 741741 or call 1-800-273-TALK to talk to someone who can help.