Christopher Knafelc, 32, was waiting for a train in north Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon when he saw a man fall on the tracks. He jumped down to help, knowing that a train would be arriving in a few minutes.
"I had a plan if a train came I was going to roll him underneath," Knafelc told WPVI-TV, "or if I couldn't, I was going to ask someone to jump down and help me roll him."
He held the man's head and neck stable until firefighters arrived. Train traffic was halted.
Knafelc told the Philadelphia Daily News he has battled substance abuse since he was in middle school in Baden, a small town outside Pittsburgh, and spent years in and out of rehab.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority spokeswoman Jerri Williams said she spoke with Knafelc soon after his heroics.
"He's clean and sober for about 2 1/2 years but still trying to get his life together," she said. "I think by doing this good Samaritan deed he's kind of surprised himself."
She saw that as Knafelc recounted the incident on the tracks, "I could see the light go off, the a-ha moment" when he realized that after he was helped by many people in his past, he was able to finally help someone else in return.
"This almost instinctive move to save this guy made him see 'I am a good person,'" Williams said. "It's amazing. This incident may be the start of really good things for him."
Online court records show Knafelc pleaded guilty in 2010 in Pennsylvania to charges of theft, driving under the influence, child endangerment and driving without a license.
He came to Philadelphia, where his mother and a cousin live, two years ago to get a fresh start, he said. A telephone message left at what was believed to be his mother's home was not immediately returned Friday.
Investigators don't know what caused the man to fall on the tracks. Surveillance video shows him walking slowly toward the platform's edge and then over it. He was taken to a hospital and listed in stable condition.
"He didn't thank me, but I know he was thankful," Knafelc told the Daily News. "You know what I mean? In my heart I believe he was."
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