A local couple reacted swiftly to the sounds of a mother in distress last night, helping the terrified woman rescue her 22-month-old child from the L tracks.
Joel and Rebecca Weinberg, who had just gotten off a train and were leaving the Morse Street Red Line station in Rogers Park Monday evening, said a woman ran up the stairs past them carrying a stroller in her arms and calling for someone to hold the train.
The next thing they knew, they heard a distraught woman's "primal scream."
"You can tell there's different sounds of pain," said Rebecca Weinberg. "Joel and I instantly knew the child was in danger. And when there's a child in danger, you just have to do something. There's no standing by."
Police said the child's 26-year-old mother, Ebere Ozonwu, a Nigerian woman who speaks only scant English, had been pushing the stroller into the train when its doors closed and the train began moving.
The stroller was dragged through the Morse Street station until it struck a barrier and the end of the platform, tossing out the baby, who witnesses say is named Rachel.
By the time the Weinbergs reached the platform, the mother was crying hysterically.
"She was running back and forth frantically on the train tracks saying either, 'The train took my baby,' or maybe, 'The train hit my baby," Joel recalled.
The Weinbergs said the train was long gone, and they had no idea what happened to the baby.
"And then someone at the end of the platform had looked over and said, 'there's a baby down here,'" said Joel.
Rachel took out her cell phone and called 911. Joel raced to the end of the platform, but was narrowly beaten by Ebere.
Rachel, it turned out, had landed on the trackbed four feet below, five or 10 feet beyond the platform, on the gravel. Somehow, she'd missed the third rail. Groceries were scattered about. The baby was conscious, but not crying.
Rachel was wearing a winter coat and hood, which no doubt cushioned her fall.
That's when Ebere jumped onto the tracks and scooped up her child.
"Ma'm, hand the baby up to me," said Joel.
The mother handed Rachel to Joel, who passed the baby to another witness, who in turn passed her to Rebecca Weinberg.
Joel Weinberg then helped the mother up to the platform.
Little Rachel, they say, was quite at first, but then began to vomit. The vomit was red, and Rebecca was concerned at first that the vomit was actually blood. Turns out, it was cough medicine.
Rachel was taken to Children's Memorial Hospital, where she continues to be observed and is in stable condition.
Preliminary tests from the CTA show that the train doors were working properly, according to the CTA.
CTA train doors are closed manually by the driver and clearance is to be checked before the train pulls away from the station. Officials are investigating why the operator didn't spot the stuck stroller, and why the doors didn't automatically open when they were obstructed.
"I held [Rachel] until the paramedics came," said Rebecca, adding that the baby was well-behaved and quiet.
"At only one point where she began to get fussy, she said.
"And at that point I just kind of kissed her on the forehead and whispered to her that it was going to be ok."