Philadelphia story: Man with troubled life heroically saves man on subway tracks

PHILADELPHIA -- Christopher Knafelc, 32, was waiting for a train in north Philadelphia when fate gave him a chance to redeem a life of pain.

Security footage at the Cecil B. Moore station on the Broad Street Line -- and broadcast nationally on cable television and on the Web -- shows a man walk straight off the platform and onto the tracks about 12:40 p.m. Thursday. Knafelc, who was sitting about 20 feet away on a bench, jumped down to help the man. A train was due to arrive in moments.

“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.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III called Knafelc a hero.

“This is what Philadelphia is all about,” Nestel said.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Knafelc had been fighting demons since his childhood in Baden, a small town, outside Pittsburgh. He was in middle school when he was introduced to OxyContin, and by high school he had moved up the drug chain to heroin.

Eventually, he studied neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh for nearly three years, until drug usage made him drop out. He spent the better part of the next 10 years in and out of rehab until a cousin took him in to get clean in Toronto.

“I never left his side, and he never left mine,” the cousin, Carrie Felinczak, told the newspaper.

But as with so many other drug addicts, the road to sobriety was pitted with failures. He said he tried to kick again with his mother in Florida. He returned to Pittsburgh, where things improved only to sink again.

Then he learned his girlfriend was pregnant and their daughter was born in July 2010. A few weeks later, his daughter was crying and he lifted her from her crib. She stopped crying and smiled, he said to the newspaper.

“It was her first, true smile,” he said. “That was the most powerful thing I've felt in my life, more powerful than any high from drugs.”

He now lives in Philadelphia, where he returned on Monday after visiting his daughter. He said he has been off drugs for two years.

He and the rest of his family didn't see the security tape of his actions until later, when local news stations put it online.

“I reacted,” he said, “and that was me. It helps reinforce that I am good. That I am a good person.”

-- Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times