SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes human intuition can be the sixth sense that separates triumph from tragedy.
And a FrontRunner operator's feeling that he needed to check one more time for a child he saw near the tracks before moving his train has a Layton mom forever grateful for his actions.
“That guy saved my life,” Ashley Kofford said. “My son is my life. If something had happened to him, I wouldn’t have been able to survive it.”
Francis Rendon was recognized by Utah Transit Authority at a news conference Wednesday "for the lifesaving role he played in January while driving the No. 9 train on its northbound approach to the Layton station," a released stated.
"He went above and beyond doing what may have been a small thing, but it made all the difference in the world," UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson said.
Through the darkness on Jan. 17, Rendon was able to see a young trespasser running from the Union Pacific tracks toward the nearby track his train was on, Benson said.
"After sounding the horn and deploying the emergency braking system, Francis noticed a shadowy figure next to the train disappear in the darkness," Benson said.
After receiving authorization from the FrontRunner control room, Rendon left the cab of the locomotive in an attempt to locate the child. Upon seeing no sign of the boy, he climbed back into the locomotive and was about to pull the train into the station. However, something stopped him and his instincts compelled him to take one more look, Rendon explained.
“I just needed to be sure before I moved the train,” he said.
The veteran operator went back and checked under the train car located directly behind the locomotive where saw an 8-year old boy hiding behind the wheel of the car. Realizing the boy might have a disability, Rendon was able to coax the child out from under the train.
“I just asked him, buddy ... you look cold. You want to get on a warm train?” Rendon said.
He picked up the boy and took him onto the locomotive and then pulled the train into the station where the boy's mother was waiting with the Layton police.
“(My son) is autistic and he is an escape artist," said Ashley Kofford. "It's really hard to keep him contained."
At that time Kofford lived in a home adjacent to the FrontRunner tracks and had taken numerous precautions to ensure her son's safety inside their home, but he was still able to get outside.
"There are no words to describe the panic," she said fighting back tears. "I'm so grateful that (Rendon) was there and he saw my son and picked him up."
When asked how her son was right after the incident, she said he was completely oblivious to the crisis he had just been through.
"I was crying so hard and he was just happy to see me. I wanted to 'kill' him myself because he scared me so badly," she said with a laugh. "He thought it was a great adventure. He was excited. He doesn't understand the danger."
Kofford noted that her son has a hard time communicating, but has an active mind.
“When he’s bored he tends to wander. I noticed the house had gotten quiet so I went looking for him and couldn’t find him," she said. "I went into the backyard and noticed FrontRunner had stopped. It doesn’t usually stop outside my house, so I called 911.”
Since the incident, the family has moved to a new location away from the tracks, she said. In describing Rendon's actions toward her son, she was effusive in her gratitude.Comment on this story
Rendon said the situation was a little tense, but he was glad it worked out so well and he deflected characterizations of him being a hero.
“I was rattled but relieved and was glad the mom was able to be reunited with her son," Rendon said. "I really don’t feel like I’m special. This my job and my job includes getting out of that train and double checking to make sure (everything is safe).”
The boy's mom sees it otherwise:
"He's my hero whether he's a hero for everyone else or not," Kofford said.