A Park Ridge police officer is being lauded as a hero for pulling a suicidal man out of the path of a commuter train in Uptown on Oct. 30 — just one day after another man committed suicide in the same area.
With a speeding, Chicago-bound express train approaching, Officer Carlos Panizo ran onto the railroad tracks near the Uptown Metra station and grabbed the 42-year-old Chicago man by his jacket after the man reportedly laid down on the center track. The train sped past just seconds after Panizo, followed closely behind by Officer Kristen Abbinante, dragged the man onto the center concrete platform closest to Main Street.
The events unfolded just before 4 p.m. when Abbinante, who was driving on Prospect Avenue near the library, said she was flagged down by a woman who told her that a man was sitting on the nearby railroad tracks and saying he wanted to “end it all” following a fight with his mother.
Abbinante hurried to the station and requested all trains be stopped after she saw the man sitting crossed-legged on the center track. Panizo, who was at the police station about one block away, also heard a call come in about a suicidal man at the train station.
“That was concerning, because we’d just had a subject get hit by a train the day before,” he said.
When Panizo arrived at the station, he and Abbinante attempted to talk to the man, but he reportedly stood up and told them to stay away. According to police reports, the man put his right arm into the thick parka he was wearing, said he had a gun, and yelled, “Shoot me!”
This prompted the officers to draw their weapons and hold the man at gunpoint as they ordered him to show them his hands, reports stated. He allegedly refused, repeatedly yelling at the officers to shoot him.
For Abbinante, one of her immediate concerns was the handful of commuters who were standing nearby.
“There were people that were in harm’s way if he had started shooting at us or if we had to shoot him,” she said. “I was very concerned about that. Carlos and I were communicating briefly and Carlos told those people, ‘Please get out here!’”
Suddenly, the officers say, the railroad crossing signals began to sound as an inbound train approached.
“We had no time to really figure out what to do — and then the train was coming,” Abbinante said.
The man, now aware of an incoming train, laid down on the tracks and took his hand out of his coat — an action that led Panizo to quickly determine he was not holding a gun.
“He was almost in a crucifixion pose,” Panizo said as he described how the man’s arms were extended outward while he laid on his back. “At that point I thought, ‘He doesn’t have a gun — or if he does, it’s going to take him a bit to get to it; I think I’ve got plenty of time to get him off the tracks.’ I approached him from behind, grabbed him by his shoulders and started dragging him. He was just dead weight at that point.”
Panizo and Abbinante secured the man’s hands and handcuffed him as back-up officers arrived and an ambulance was called.
“It was a bit eerie that when we finally had him, he wasn’t saying anything,” Panizo recalled. “I asked him his name, he told me, ‘Bill,’ and I said we were going to get him some help, but he didn’t say anything after that. He was very loud and expressive when we got there, but then when he was in handcuffs, he was eerily quiet.”
“It was almost like he was relieved — that it was out of his hands now,” Abbinante added.
A search of the man revealed a wallet and a phone — but no gun or other weapon, reports state. He was also wearing three sweatshirts under his thick coat, Abbinante noted.
He was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge for a mental-health evaluation.
The stand-off and rescue occurred just a week after the two officers took part in a training exercise that put them in virtual situations with armed or potentially armed suspects.
As the events at the train tracks unfolded Oct. 30, Panizo recalled hearing his instructor’s voice inside his head, giving him commands.
“It’s very true in that I fall back on all the training we’ve had,” Panizo said. “It was a bit scary, but at the same time, I felt prepared.”
“Even though it’s not real, it still mentally prepares you for those encounters so you’re calm enough to figure out what to do,” she said.
Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski said Panizo and Abbinante are under consideration for an Award of Valor, the highest honor given by the police department.
“It was very heroic,” Kaminski said of the rescue. “It really shows the professionalism of the officers.”
Deputy Police Chief David Keller said as much as the incident exemplifies the heroic response of a police officer, it is also another example of the mental-health issues that police must commonly deal with, including what he says is a disturbing national trend in “suicide by cop” cases where individuals use a weapon or the threat of a weapon to get a police officer to shoot and kill them.
“This is the kind of thing that his guy probably wanted us to do at first and when we didn’t (shoot him), he lay down on the tracks,” Keller said.
“It seems like a lot of our job is being social worker and psychologist, more than law enforcement,” agreed Abbinante.
Just the day before, a 34-year-old Schaumburg man was killed when he was struck by an outbound express train just north of the Uptown Metra Station near Touhy Avenue during rush hour. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office ruled the man’s death a suicide.