Wesley Autrey didn’t hesitate last January, and he doesn’t hesitate now: The hero of the No. 1 train says he’d put his life on the subway line one more time for a total stranger. “Sure, I would do it all over again,” says the fearless construction worker, sitting in a coffee shop just two blocks from the Harlem station where the “Subway Superman” saved a seizure victim from death beneath the wheels of a downtown train.
While Autrey’s resolve remains unchanged, his selfless, split-second decision dramatically altered his life. The father of two, to his surprise and delight, was catapulted to instant celebrity and international acclaim in the last year. Autrey was welcomed twice at the White House. He hung with Kanye West at a Super Bowl bash. He was honored by Mayor Bloomberg, hosted by David Letterman, hailed by Donald Trump.
Oh, and one more thing, he confesses with a wide grin: Autrey received a lifetime subscription to Playboy, courtesy of Hugh Hefner. Autrey was wearing a bunny logo cap—it still bears a grease stain from the train that barely missed him—when he rescued Cameron Hollopeter. “It’s been an incredible year,” says the 51-year-old Harlem man.
The genial “Superman” is hardly more powerful than a locomotive, but he and Hollopeter, 20, survived 370 tons of screeching subway car rattling one inch above their heads. Autrey jumped from the platform at 137th Street after the disoriented young man pinwheeled to the tracks as a Broadway local hurtled toward the station last Jan. 2.
Autrey bear-hugged Hollopeter in the grimy trough between the rails. After avoiding death by less than the length of a MetroCard, Autrey recalls, “I went to work.”
While he is a hero to the entire city, the stretch of Broadway near the subway stop is Autrey’s personal “Canyon of Heroes.” Friends and fans greet him with hearty handshakes and hellos. He rides the train each day to work from the station, where the token booth clerk greets him by name.
Autrey arrives at the Bus Stop coffee shop straight from a Manhattan construction site, clad in Army fatigue pants with a matching shirt and a white hard hat. His goatee, flecked with gray, frames a ready smile. A small diamond earring is the lone sign of his recent good fortune, although he carries a business card reading “Wesley Autrey Sr., Subway Hero.”
While Autrey embraced his celebrity, Hollopeter has never spoken publicly about the incident. His last words on the subject came to Autrey after the train stopped. “Am I dead?” Hollopeter asked. Autrey pinched him to prove he wasn’t. Autrey remains in contact with Hollopeter, whose family sent a Thanksgiving bouquet of roses. The two clans intend to have dinner in 2008.
“We have Superman and Batman, all these fictional characters,” Autrey says. “It’s very good when you can find a real-life hero.” Autrey, hardhat in hand, can be found most mornings at the 137th Street station.
By Larry McShane, Staff Writer
New York Daily News
December 16, 2007
Reprinted with permission
Photo reprinted with permission from Josh Haner/The New York Times/Redux.
(Autrey was awarded the Carnegie Medal in April of 2008 for his rescue act.)