It’s one thing to witness and report a crime — it’s another to intervene, risking your own life in the process.
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New York City subway station cleaner Felicia Williams recently helped cops catch a man who allegedly snatched a woman’s wallet inside the 18th Street subway station and fled. As a result, she's now been nominated for the Hometown Heroes in Transit Awards.
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On March 18, Williams, a 45-year-old mother of two, was working with six interns on a project at the 18th Street station on the No. 1 line when she heard bloodcurdling screams she says she’ll never forget.
“These were screams of a terrified woman,” Williams told Yahoo Shine. “They were coming from the other side of the platform, so I couldn’t see what was going on until I walked to the end and several workers ran toward me, yelling that a woman was being robbed.”
From across the platform, Williams saw a young man who appeared to be in his 20s, wearing a windbreaker and a baseball cap, and pulling a 30-something woman backward down the subway stairs by the strap of her handbag, before breaking off and fleeing the station. “I didn’t think, I just reacted,” says Williams.
Yelling at the ticket booth clerk to sound the emergency alarm that notified the station agent and the police and fire departments, Williams raced up the subway stairs hoping to intercept the man. “When I reached the street, I saw the guy surface at the station across the street, but I had to wait until the lights changed to chase him.” Fortunately, Williams was able to catch up to the man, and slowly trailed behind him. And she was stunned by what she saw.
As he calmly walked along 17th Street, the man removed his cap and windbreaker to reveal a crisp, clean suit underneath, and then threw the clothes into a nearby trashcan. “He looked like a businessman," says Williams.
Luckily, a van carrying school safety officers happened to drive past, and Williams began waving her arms frantically in the air. The van stopped and several officers jumped out and chased the man, catching and apprehending him.
The suspect was identified as Robert McLeod, a 20-year-old man from Bayonne, N.J. According to the Daily News, he was charged with robbery and assault.
Back at the station, Williams comforted the woman. “She was hysterical and had a hurt leg,” she says. Later, she learned that the woman’s leg had been broken in the attack.
As for her hero status, Williams is taking it in stride. “I was just doing my job, and anyone who would have heard this woman’s screams would have helped, too,” she says. “People need to watch their surroundings in the subway, whether they’re walking [through the station] or waiting for the train. This incident has definitely made me more aware."
It's made her a new friend, too. “We exchanged phone numbers and she invited me to dinner," says Williams. "I know we'll stay in touch forever."
Organized by the New York Daily News, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and TWU Local 100 (New York’s largest public transit union), the annual Hometown Heroes in Transit Awards are given to bus and subway workers, toll booth clerks, and train operators who go the extra mile to keep travelers safe. "Candidates typically share three qualities," Pete Donohue, transit reporter and columnist at the New York Daily News, told Yahoo Shine in an email. "They're proud of their work, they care about others, and they're tough when it matters. They're New Yorkers you can count on. Last year, one winner rescued a man in a wheelchair who had tumbled onto the tracks, another is a bus driver who learned greetings in many languages so he could address his diverse ridership. Williams wouldn't allow a vicious criminal to get away ... she followed the guy at some risk to her own safety."
The deadline for nominations is Nov. 15. The winners will be featured in a special section of the New York Daily News and honored at a ceremony Jan. 29.
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