Carrying a bag of groceries into her Ramsey, N.J., home, Katie Pritchard had left her two small sons, Todd and Scott, playing contentedly near the driveway. Living at the end of a cul-de-sac, Katie, 30, didn’t worry about traffic, and she had often told 3-year-old Todd to stay away from the railroad tracks 50 yards down an access road through heavy brush. But when she heard the continuous blast of a train horn, she suspected instantly that something was wrong.
She was right. As a 19-car freight train rounded the bend near the cul-de-sac, conductor Anthony Falzo and engineer Richard Campana looked out the locomotive window and saw what they thought were two bundles of clothing. one red, one yellow, lying by the right-hand rail about 800 feet ahead. “Then the yellow one moved,” says Falzo, 35, “and we realized it was two kids.”
As Campana slammed on the brakes and sounded the horn, Falzo, a 17-year railroad veteran, became certain that the train, fully loaded and heading downhill, could never stop in time. Bolting out the door onto the engine’s front platform, he yelled at the kids, who looked up, he says, “as if we could steer around them.” A onetime high school gymnast, Falzo then raced down the platform steps and leaped out onto the tracks. Barely keeping ahead of the massive advancing plow blade, Falzo took two giant strides and dove at Todd and his 18-month-old brother, gathering them under his arms like footballs and pressing them to the ground. He didn’t quite clear the blade, which struck the baby’s face, “snapping his head back like a rag doll,” Falzo remembers. “I thought his neck was broken.”
When the train finally stopped, the side of the second car was over their heads. But aside from facial cuts requiring 13 stitches, Scott was unhurt. So were Todd and Falzo, whose insulated vest was ripped where the plow had grazed his back. “There’s no word in Webster’s that can express our deepest, everlasting appreciation to Tony for what he did,” says Pritchard. She and her husband, Gary, a home builder, plan to erect a fence around their yard immediately.
Falzo’s bravery has brought him several awards—and maybe something better. “Now there’s this bond between me and the family,” says the conductor, who has no kids of his own. “It’s like these children will be with me for the rest of my life.”