Words: Bryan Alary
| Images: Tracy Niven and Leigh Kovesy
| Videos: Rory Lee and Bryan Alary
29 May, 2018
Chris Sampson’s actions saved a man's life. Just don’t call him a hero
The morning of April 7, 2017 started like any other for Chris Sampson, a third-year electrician apprentice at NAIT. He woke up, got dressed and headed for classes. When he arrived at the Churchill LRT station downtown, he popped in his headphones and played a favourite podcast to pass the time and drown out his surroundings.
That’s when his day – and someone’s life – took an unexpected turn. The underground station reverberated with shouting, drawing the attention of a platform full of sleepy commuters. Sampson turned and saw two men in each other’s faces about 15 metres away.
“I didn’t really stop to consider the situation until he had already been pulled up and I was trying to get up.”
The station chime signalled an oncoming train and interrupted the fracas. When one of the men turned away to board the train, the quarrel seemed over. That’s when the other man lunged and hit his unsuspecting adversary in the back of the head, causing him to fall onto the tracks, unconscious, with the train closing in.
Sampson leapt into action, manoeuvring past dozens of onlookers and onto the tracks to help. When he was unable to move the victim on his own, another bystander jumped down to lend a hand.
“I didn’t really stop to consider the situation until he had already been pulled up and I was trying to get up,” Sampson says.
The train stopped about five metres from where the man fell and the commotion ended. Police put the attacker in handcuffs and Sampson went about his day, stopping briefly to share a quick note about his unusual start to the day on Facebook. He wasn’t even late for class.
Instructor Ryan Saunders (Electrician ’00) first heard about his student’s heroics from another instructor, who joked that Sampson’s actions should have earned him a day off. When he talked to Sampson, his pupil downplayed the incident.
“He was normal like it was just another regular day,” says Saunders. “We gave him a lot of kudos and stuff. He just said, ‘Thank you but I was just doing what I thought was right.’ He’s a humble guy.”
Sampson was happy to put everything behind him but his phone started buzzing. The media were calling.
“It was my mom who ratted me out,” he explains.
Honoured among heroes
Beaming with pride, Tammy Sampson phoned a local TV station to share the news of her son’s quick thinking and selflessness. Soon journalists across the city lined up to report about Edmonton’s newest hero. Months later, he received a Bronze Medal for Bravery from the Royal Canadian Humane Association.
When he received his bravery medal in November 2017, Sampson wondered what he was doing on stage with so many truly courageous people.
“Somebody pulled someone out of a burning car. Another chased down an assailant, saving a woman who was being attacked. That takes more than a quick reaction.”
Out of dozens of bystanders, including several transit police officers who were much closer to the skirmish – why was Chris Sampson the one to act?
When asked about it months later, he hesitates, despite plenty of previous interviews to rehearse an answer. When he speaks, he tugs at his fingers occasionally, clearly uncomfortable with the fuss. A fan of video and role-playing games, he identified with heroic characters and always hoped he was the kind of person who would act in a crisis. But how do you know until it happens?
“There’s a reason they call it a ‘crisis situation,’” he says. “I would love to live in a world where it’s expected that everyone would react and try to help immediately. I know that’s not really reality.”
Two lives changed
The train incident left a mark, both for Sampson and the victim, who injured his spine and suffered paralysis below the neck.
Sampson met him about two months after the attack at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, where the man was being treated. (The victim’s social worker connected them after Sampson expressed an interest in meeting). During that encounter, his mother gushed with gratitude and offered to make Sampson a pair of moccasins, but they didn’t keep in touch. Sampson says he was struck by the man’s positivity and how he viewed the incident as a wakeup call after a rough period in his life.
“I was in the right situation and reacted the right way.”
In the months since, Sampson has considered a career as a first responder. He could see himself as a paramedic but wants to finish his apprenticeship first and work in the industry for a few years. Helping others remains a long-term goal.
Whether or not he accepts his status as hero, April 7, 2017 wasn’t a regular day. That’s when everyone learned who Chris Sampson truly is – especially Sampson himself.
“I was in the right situation and reacted the right way. I thought of myself as someone who would be a helper and it turns out I am. That’s a very satisfying feeling.”
This article appears in the spring 2018 issue of techlife magazine.