UTA train operator cringes under all the attention after near-fatal crash with car

(Screenshot courtesy of Utah Highway Patrol/Twitter) A screenshot from a Utah Highway Patrol dash camera shows Trooper Ruben Correa rescuing a motorist who was stranded on FrontRunner tracks.

Riley Nelson says all the attention from the news media — and his bosses — is more nerve-wracking than when he managed to slow his train just enough to allow a Utah Highway Patrol trooper to pull an unconscious motorist from a car stopped on the tracks.

“I don’t like getting attention for stuff. I just like to be in the background, doing my job,” Nelson said after the Utah Transit Authority Board gave him a plaque Wednesday in appreciation for his efforts, plus a certificate for a dinner and a movie.

“I don’t like being in front of the camera. Even on my Facebook, I have about five pictures of me in the last 10 years and hundreds of landscape pictures,” he said.

UTA had hoped that UHP Trooper Ruben Correa could also attend its board meeting for praise. “But he’s on the [national] Kelly Clarkson Show instead,” said UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot. “She beat us out, but we do want to thank him for his bravery.”

She noted that dash-cam video of Correa’s rescue went viral. It shows him pulling an unconscious motorist out of a car — which had crashed onto the tracks — just before the train smashes into the car and flings it out of the way.

Nelson said that as his train rounded a curve, he saw the headlights of the car stopped on the tracks far ahead. “I just automatically hit the brakes and the horn.” But it takes a long distance for a train to stop.

Gonot said that without Nelson’s quick action, “It would have been much worse.”

UTA figures that in the 21 seconds between when Nelson hit the brakes and the train collided with the car, the train slowed from 79 mph to 30 — and bought a few precious seconds that Correa needed to extricate the driver from the car.

“We’re extremely proud of all of our trained engineers. Our operators have a lot of stress that comes with the job every day," Gonot said. "So when we do have these kinds of close calls, we like to be able to recognize and show appreciation to our operators for their skill, their trained handling and the expertise that they have.”