Cameron Whitlock on the platform where he pulled a man from under a moving TRAX train.
It was two weeks after the new year, and Cameron Whitlock was getting ready to start culinary school. He had a little spare time before his first day of classes began and planned to make a quick stop at home. He stepped off a TRAX train at the Central Point Station on 2100 South and walked across the platform to see when his next train would arrive. His back was to the tracks when he heard the train he had just exited begin to pull away. “Then I heard this ‘thud, thud, thud,’” he recalls. Whitlock flipped around and saw a man fall to the ground, his legs pinned beneath the train. “He kind of rag dolled. As the train moved, he rolled with it.” Noticing the concrete ramp near the end of the platform, which the man surely would have slammed against, Whitlock stepped forward, grabbed the man by the shoulders and pulled him from under the accelerating train.
The 59-year-old man was unconscious, and as blood began to gush from the golf-ball sized wound on his forehead, Whitlock called 911. The man lived after days in critical condition. But Whitlock, too, is still carrying around scars. “Nothing was the same after that. I couldn’t sleep or work, and I was in tears every time I was alone,” says Whitlock, who started seeing a psychologist to process what he had seen and what he had done. “I wouldn’t change my actions, but it didn’t just affect that man.”
It’s a feeling Arnold Tomlinson (name changed to protect identity) knows well. He started driving TRAX trains nearly a decade ago, and a few years in, a man jumped onto the rails, intent on ending his life. “The only thing you can do is honk your horn and hit the brake,” he says. “After that, you just deal with it the best you can.”
For Tomlinson, coping meant zoning out in front of the TV for three days straight, not sleeping or doing much of anything. “I still suffer a lot of post-traumatic stress over it.” Still, several years later—and as many close calls—Tomlinson continues to drive the trains day in and day out. Knowing that someone could jump in front of him again, or simply slip and fall, comes with the territory, he says. “We know that [just about] everyone will have an incident. You don’t know when and where, [but] you just have to accept the fact that it will be your turn at some point.”
The UTA doesn’t like to talk about incidents of suicide, fearing that drawing attention to the deaths would only lead to more. “We have serious concerns about copycat behavior,” Carpenter says. “So we try to educate people about the human side of it. Suicide doesn’t affect just the person killed, [but] their family, the railroad operator, those who responded to it and bystanders who witnessed it. It affects everyone involved.”