The scene at the rail crossing on Broadway Avenue in Chilliwack on May 26, 2018 after a man in a wheelchair stuck on the tracks was killed. (D. Todd Jerome photo)

Heroism medal for B.C. woman who tried to save man in wheelchair stuck on railroad tracks

Julie Callaghan awarded Carnegie Medal from U.S.-based foundation for ‘extraordinary heroism’

A Chilliwack woman who tried to save a man in a wheelchair stuck on rail tracks has been granted an award for extraordinary heroism by a U.S.-based foundation.

Julie Callaghan is one of 18 civilians recognized with a medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, a Pittsburgh-based fund that recognizes heroic actions in the U.S. and Canada.

Julie Callaghan, who attempted to save a man who stuck on the tracks at the Broadway Avenue rail crossing in Chilliwack on May 26, suffered severe damage to her hand when the train hit her. (Facebook)

Callaghan is one of just two Canadians on the 2019 list announced on June 24.

It was May 26, 2018 when the Chilliwack woman was driving to an event when she approached the rail crossing at Broadway Avenue. There, stuck on the tracks in a motorized wheelchair was 40-year-old Matthew Jarvis.

“As soon as the arms started to come down, he started rocking in his chair,” Callaghan told The Progress two days after the incident. “And that triggered me to recognize he was stuck.

“He was really trying to force the chair out and he couldn’t do it.”

As a train travelling at about 80 kilometres per hour approached, Callaghan and another woman tried to lift the wheelchair out from the path of the train. With her back to the train, the 44-year-old moved away just in time. Jarvis died and the train struck Callaghan’s hand. She sustained broken bones, which required surgery.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack woman who tried to save man stuck on rail tracks called a ‘hero’

Callaghan’s actions were quickly called heroic by those who saw what happened, including Mary-Jane Warkentin who was driving up to the tracks at the time.

“This woman was a true hero,” Warkentin said in a Facebook post. “She ran from her car to try to save the man and ended up injured due to her heroic action.”

Matthew Jarvis was killed on May 26 when he was struck by a train as his wheelchair was stuck in the tracks at the Broadway Avenue crossing in Chilliwack. (Facebook)

Callaghan’s husband is a firefighter with the Chilliwack Fire Department who was emotional on Facebook about his wife’s attempt to help.

“Yesterday showed me that it didn’t matter what the circumstance was, she was willing to help someone out, even though it could have ended bad for her,” Darren Callaghan posted. “When I met my wife she became my best friend. When we got married she became my wife. Yesterday, she became my HERO!!”

Julie, however, didn’t see it that way at the time.

“I just did what I had to do,” she said. “I saw someone stuck on the train tracks for gosh sakes. You have to try…. I don’t see it as heroic.”

The incident has also, however, been life-changing and traumatizing for Callaghan who now has to have three fingers on her dominant hand amputated. Her pinky, ring and middle fingers will have to be taken off and she is looking into what type of prosthetics will work.

“The last three fingers have not moved since the night of the accident,” she said Monday. “It’s almost as if they are fused…. My hand is dying.”

Not even taking into account the mental trauma of the event, Callaghan said her life has become consumed by medical appointments, surgeries, hospital visits and hand therapy.

“This is what my life is like. It’s been absolutely all consuming.”

With her hand essentially destroyed by the train, she now spends all her time trying to see some light on the horizon, which includes hopefully one day a return to work.

“I just need to get back to some normal,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a thing about that day, but it definitely hasn’t come without its challenges.”

With this second announcement of 2019 recipients, a total of 10,099 Carnegie Medals have been awarded since the Pittsburgh-based Fund’s inception in 1904. Commission Chair Mark Laskow said each of the awardees or their survivors will also receive a financial grant. Throughout the more than 115 years since the Fund was established by industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, $40.9 million has been given in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits, and continuing assistance.

The other Canadian recipient is Ryan Scott McIlwain of Douro-Drummer, Ont. The 16-year-old high school student saw a man struggling to stay afloat in the Otonabee River on July 13, 2018. The boy entered the water, directed the panicking man to lie on his back. McIlwain then grasped him around the chest and backstroked with his one free arm about 50 metres to the shore.

Other recipients rescued a police officer from an assault, pulled a person from a burning vehicle, and pulled a three-year-old girl from a wrecked pickup truck that had acid pouring in from an overturned tanker.

• READ MORE: One dead, one injured after being struck by train in Chilliwack a hero


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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