Julie Callaghan was driving to an event on Saturday evening in Chilliwack when she approached the rail crossing at Broadway Avenue.
As the lights started flashing, she thought for one moment about speeding up to dart across, but instead she stopped.
That’s when she saw a man in a motorized wheelchair who appeared to be across the track, adjusting his headphones possibly.
“As soon as the arms started to come down, he started rocking in his chair,” Callaghan told The Progress Monday. “And that triggered me to recognize he was stuck.
“He was really trying to force the chair out and he couldn’t do it.”
Callaghan got out of her car and ran in her high-heeled shoes to help. Another woman named Yvonne Kanis also ran over, and the two women got to work trying to move the wheelchair.
Nobody spoke, and Callaghan remembers no sounds. Not the ringing of the rail crossing arms, or the long horn blast of the fast-approaching CN train.
“We were trying to get him out, even if we pushed him on his face but those wheels were so planted that we couldn’t,” she said.
Facing west as she tried to free the man, Callaghan decided it was time to turn to see where the train was.
“I just looked and it was that moment we had to let go. We just let go. We knew we had to save ourselves. It was a tough decision, trust me.”
Callaghan let go at the last second and her left hand was clipped by the train breaking her knuckles, ripping tendons, and tearing a huge gash in her hand.
“The impact was incredible.”
The other woman was uninjured, but the man in the chair, Matthew Jarvis, was killed.
Callaghan said she didn’t see it, but apparently Jarvis had a Slurpie cup with him as he had been on an outing to 7/11. And half an hour before the incident, he posted a selfie of himself and new sunglasses.
“New pair of shades. What do y’all think?” said the Facebook post at 5:03 p.m.
There was an outpouring of support and condolences on social media after the tragic fatality on Saturday, with family and friends remembering Jarvis.
What also emerged was claims that Callaghan’s actions were heroic.
Mary-Jane Warkentin was driving up to the tracks on Broadway right when it happened.
“This woman was a true hero,” Warkentin said. “She ran from her car to try to save the man and ended up injured due to her heroic action.”
Callaghan’s own 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!!”
But like most heroes, Julie doesn’t think of it that way.
“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.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t save him.”
As for her, Callaghan had surgery and she’s told she might have nerve damage in her fingers. But it will be the post-traumatic event healing that will take time.
“I’m going to do some counselling, critical incident counselling.”
The official cause of the fatality is under investigation.