Blue Line hero Craig Mathis, 31, was named 2014 Oak Park Villager of the Year Runner-Up this week by the Wednesday Journal, but he’ll always deserve a blue ribbon in Forest Park.
Mathis saved a woman from sexual assault on the Blue Line tracks under the Harlem platform around 2 a.m. on June 10. He was honored as a hero by the Village of Forest Park last July for his quick-thinking actions.
That early morning, Mathis and his buddy, Matt Cooley, heard screams from the Blue Line tracks while they walked across the Circle Avenue bridge. They saw a man grab a woman by her hair and throw her off the platform, then straddle her and try to take off her pants.
Mathis used his Ventra card to enter the turnstile and rushed to the Harlem platform, where he pulled the 100-pound victim up from the tracks. The assailant fled east on the platform.
Matt Cooley, meanwhile, called 911. Still dressed in athletic clothes from a softball game earlier that evening, Mathis followed the attacker, Curtis White, 48, who was met by Forest Park police coming down the Harlem ramp with guns drawn. White had more than 97 criminal arrests on his record, said Forest Park Police Chief James Ryan.
“Without [Mathis and Cooley] there would have been serious harm to this individual,” Ryan said. White is currently in Cook County Jail.
But Mathis had saved another life 11 months earlier. He donated a kidney to longtime friend Tom Plastina.
“I’m indebted to him forever,” said Plastina, who attended kindergarten through high school with Mathis. Tom and Craig were old family friends from the St. Giles Family Mass group.
When they realized they shared O-negative blood type, Craig volunteered to go through the surgery.
“He was in really great shape and he bounced back right away,” Plastina said. “It’s impossible to repay. It’s hard to put into words how amazing it was.”
Mathis set up a fundraiser for Donate Life Illinois last July and will work on another fundraiser for Rush Hospital’s kidney donation group this summer.
When Wednesday Journal checked in, Mathis was between jobs. He was working as a property manager last summer.
For a while following the train track rescue, Mathis said he was a local celebrity among his friends.
He was touched when he headed to the plate in a softball game and the opposing pitcher took off his glove and started applauding, which led to a standing ovation.
“I rarely think about it,” Mathis said of the Blue Line rescue.
“It was not insanely life changing. If it happened again, it would go exactly the same way. There’s someone in need, go help.”
“He’s actually like a superman if he finds someone in trouble,” Plastina said. “He’ll even help anyone move. That’s what kind of guy he is.”