Fifteen-year Valley Streamer Anthony Mannino said he heard the screams first.
As a signal maintainer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, he was at the Newkirk Plaza Q stop in Brooklyn on the morning of Aug. 8, and looked to see what the commotion was about.
He saw a woman standing, motionless, on the track bed of the northbound side of the station, and as a 22-year MTA employee familiar with the layout, he knew she was in a dangerous spot. Mannino acted immediately. “The only thing that came to my mind,” he said, “was that I had to help this lady.”
He bounded over the express tracks and onto the southbound ones. Familiar with the signal system, Mannino, 54, said he knew there was an incoming northbound train, and there were seconds to spare. He never checked to see whether a southbound train was approaching.
“I just reacted,” he recalled. “You have blinders on. You’re not focused on whether you get hit by a train. You just know you need to help this person.”
The woman was standing at the end of a curve in the tracks, at the base of a downhill grade, and Mannino knew the train operator wouldn’t see her until it was too late. He made horizontal pulling motions with his arms: A signal meant to indicate distress and to notify the operator, also called the motorman, to engage the train’s emergency brakes.
More than 682,000 pounds of stainless steel barreled toward the woman at roughly 35 miles per hour, according to the MTA. At that speed, Mannino said, the train could have easily killed or maimed her.
Larry Moreno was the train’s motorman. He told other news outlets he had seen Mannino’s fluorescent vest and signal, and activated the emergency brakes.
“Once I apply the emergency brake, that’s the maximum brakes that I could apply,” Moreno told reporters at a news conference on Aug. 9. “And I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, please, stop the train, stop, stop, stop.’”
The train came to a halt with no more than two feet to spare.
When Mannino walked up to the woman, he recalled her seeming unfazed, albeit a bit confused. “I didn’t know what was going on through her mind right then and there,” he said. “I just knew I had to try and get her off the tracks.”
While the immediate danger was over, there was still the risk that the woman might trip or touch the third rail and be electrocuted. With Mannino’s gentle prodding, she agreed to walk back up onto the platform.
Once there, however, Mannino said, she kept walking. “I was pleading with her to get help, but she kept walking like she had a purpose,” he said. “She just didn’t want to stop.”
She continued up to the sidewalk, like nothing unusual had happened, Mannino recounted. He followed her for roughly a block and a half while imploring her to seek help, but she refused, he said, and eventually she walked off and disappeared into the crowded Brooklyn streets.
The MTA said it was looking to find the woman using surveillance footage, working with the New York City Police Department.
So far, she has not been found.
“When I talked to Tony’s wife, Debbie, about what had happened, I said he was probably upset he couldn’t help her,” said Susan Aller, a Valley Stream resident and a longtime friend of the Manninos. “She said, ‘Yeah, he was broken up he couldn’t do more.’”
Aller, a traffic reporter on WCBS-FM’s “Scott Shannon in the Morning,” said she had known Mannino since their sons were 4 years old. They’re now 19. “I’m not surprised he put his own life in jeopardy, because he would do that to help anybody,” Aller said. “He’s just a standup guy. He would give the shirt off his back to help you if he could.”
Mannino and his wife grew up in Astoria together and moved to Valley Stream when their two children were young, he said. Close to the train and his work, the area seemed like a nice fit for them, and their children attended Hewlett High School.
Although Mannino remained upset that he couldn’t do more to help the still unidentified woman, he said he was happy that he prevented her from getting killed. After all, he said, “Nothing good ever comes out of getting hit by a train.”