CENTERVILLE — Just three minutes and quick thinking from a Utah Highway Patrol trooper stood between a man’s life and his likely death early Wednesday morning.
In what’s now become a viral video, dash cam footage from UHP trooper Ruben Correa shows him grabbing an unconscious man out of a car that was stuck on train tracks, mere seconds before the train crashed into the car.
While most have seen the video and heard from Correa, who many call a hero, there were other factors at play in the fateful moment.
Riley Nelson, the FrontRunner’s operator, shared insight into the miraculous event on Facebook.
Crews were short-staffed that morning, which made Nelson five minutes late to the train.
On a normal day, the train would’ve gone through the area of the accident about three minutes earlier.
“That means I would have most certainly hit the car and this would most likely be a fatality accident,” he wrote on Facebook.
When Nelson passed the southbound train that morning, he could see a light near the tracks but wasn’t sure what it was until he was less than a mile away — that’s when he realized there was a car on the tracks.
He immediately turned on the emergency brake, prayed he was wrong and wouldn’t hit anything.
“(Nelson) responded quickly and decisively,” said Utah Transit Authority spokesman Carl Arky, who called Nelson an “unsung hero” in the incident.
The brake was activated when the train was 21 seconds from impact, Arky stated in a news release.
In those 21 seconds, the train slowed from 79 mph to about 30 mph.
For a split-second, Nelson thought the train would stop short of the car, but “trains take a long time to stop,” he noted.
As the train came closer, Nelson could see someone trying to get the driver out of the car. He couldn’t see police lights and didn’t know at the time that it was a trooper helping the man.
Barely even one second before impact, Nelson watched Correa successfully haul the man out of the car.
“By being attentive and diligent, (Nelson) slowed the train just enough to buy the trooper the few precious extra seconds needed to extricate the driver from the vehicle on the track,” Arky wrote. “In our eyes, he is also a hero and we plan to recognize him for his quick thinking and the action that he took which saved two lives.”
In that moment, Nelson writes he immediately felt they were safe.
“God answered my daily prayer,” Nelson shared in his Facebook post.
Every morning, Nelson prays to God to ask for safety for both himself and everyone on and around his train, he wrote in the post.
“I’m grateful my shuttle van was late. I'm grateful I left the station late. I'm grateful trooper Correa put his life on the line. I'm grateful for the quick response by the emergency crews in reacting to the accident,” Nelson wrote on Facebook. “Most of all, I'm grateful the driver survived without any serious injury.”
Every morning, I pray to Heavenly Father and ask that He protect me and all those around and on my train. This morning, I know He did, and I thank Him for that.
–Riley Nelson, FrontRunner operator
Even with those extra three minutes, it was still a close call.
Correa said that if it had been just one second later, there would have been a much different outcome.
"That's when I realized, 'Oh wow, that was a lot closer than what I would have liked,'" he said.
Had the train not slowed down, or had Nelson waited any longer to activate the emergency brake, the “outcome most likely would have been tragic,” Arky noted.
No injuries were reported in the incident, which took place on the FrontRunner tracks between Pages Lane and Parrish Lane in Davis County, according to Arky.
The driver, who was not identified, was safe and with his family later that day, Correa said. He had an unknown medical issue prior to the crash, according to Correa.
While Arky called Nelson a hero, Nelson said he felt "reluctant" to share his story but called Correa's actions undoubtedly heroic.
"Trooper Ruben Correa is a hero. I know he won't admit it, but it's true," Nelson wrote. "He put no thought about his life and well-being to save a stranger from certain death. His actions are rightfully hailed as heroic."