By Jean Lotus
Oak Park resident Craig Mathis and Matt Cooley of Forest Park were honored Monday by the Forest Park Village Council and police department for their quick-thinking actions during an early morning June 10 sexual assault of a woman on the CTA Blue Line tracks.
The men were given a Citizen Recognition award by Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone and Police Chief Jim Ryan.
"A 36 year old female had exited the Blue Line, and a male subject grabbed her from behind and began attacking her," Ryan said at the village council meeting. "He was relentless and [threw] her onto the tracks."
"Without even thinking or hesitating Craig used his CTA card to go onto the platform and confront the offender as he continued to assault [her.]"
Police arrested Chester White, 48, of Chicago for aggravated sexual assault after he allegedly grabbed the 100 pound woman and threw her off the platform onto the tracks. White than jumped down and climbed on top of her. Cooley and Mathis, acquaintances from high school, witnessed the attack from the Circle Avenue bridge.
"Without them there would have been serious harm to this individual," Ryan told the crowd of family and friends gathered in village hall. White had more than 97 criminal arrests on his record, Ryan said.
Forest Park's Cooley, a bartender at several local watering holes, remembered how the two saw the attack and ran to the top of the bridge, just as the woman began to scream.
"A buzz went up our skin," Cooley said in a phone interview. "I saw the offender grabbing her by the hair and throw her off the platform. I've never seen anything like that before."
Mathis used his Ventra card to zip through the turnstyle and run down the ramp onto the platform. The two began to yell at White to stop the attack.
"[Mathis] jumped really fast into action," Cooley said. "I didn't get through the entrance, so I called 911 and told police I saw the man assaulting the girl."
Cooley was able to keep in contact with police by phone while Mathis saw White climb back onto the platform and try to exit the platform through the Harlem Avenue exit.
"I started walking down the bridge to get a better view of him," Cooley said. "Craig started following him down the platform. Right before he was ready to approach the offender the cops were down there with their guns drawn," he said.
Cooley helped identify White, who was charged with criminal sexual assault. He remains in custody in Cook County Jail.
As for the award, Cooley said he was honored to receive it.
"It feels kind of cool. Usually I'm down there getting parking tickets or something," he joked.
"Having your presence here is uplifting for myself and the commissioners here and the audience," Calderone said to Mathis and Cooley. "We are grateful for a selfless act of heroism."