How a CTA manager subdued a sword-wielding man on the 'L' tracks
07/25/2012 10:00 PM
Roman Alvarado is lucky to be alive.
Last week, the CTA manager was honored by his bosses at the top of the agency for going above and beyond his duties as a CTA transportation manager, for doing a task that wasn’t in his job description: taking down a sword-wielding man in the middle of the CTA tracks, a man who was intent on killing someone.
And it was only when Alvarado turned to prayer that he was able to control the large man who claimed to be the devil, armed with a double-edged Chinese sword during a struggle June 16 on the Orange Line tracks.
“My wife is very blessed to know that I’m alive and we’re very blessed simply because I have another day to live,” Alvarado said last week. “God gave me the strength to do this. I couldn’t have done it on my own.”
Alvarado said his prayers seemed to calm Albert Burage, who had barged into the Chinatown Red Line Station at 4:30 p.m. earlier that Saturday, holding a five-foot sword and swearing he was the anti-Christ.
“It was the craziest day of my life,” said 26-year-old Securitas guard Dwight Demery, who first confronted Burage as he entered the Chinatown Red Line station shortly after he had stolen the sword from the Oriental Arts Center on Wentworth Avenue.
“Honestly the first thing I felt was fear,” Demery said. “He was holding a long sword. I immediately unmuzzled the dog.”
Burage shot past Dwight and continued onto the Chinatown platform, chased by the security guard and his dog before he jumped onto the tracks and started heading north towards the Roosevelt Road station.
Meanwhile, Alvarado was riding the Orange Line southbound as part of his job as a CTA transportation manager, monitoring operations on the elevated lines, he said, when he first noticed the man on the tracks near 15th Street, an “unauthorized person,” he said, “on the right-of-way.” He didn’t notice the sword.
Alvarado told the train operator to call in to have the power turned off. That act would later prove to save his life.
He did, however, notice the sword after he exited the train and confronted the man on the two-and-a-half-foot wide catwalk. Burage had been holding the sword to his side. Now he turned and confronted Alvarado, leaving him little room or time to even think of retreating.
“I realized right away that I can’t get out of his way,” he said. “To the right of me was the street, to the left the tracks.” And the track had a gaping hole, three-feet wide, through which either man, or both, could have fallen to their death.
The plucky CTA manager rushed Burage. The police report says Alvarado stands five-foot-nine and weighs 180 pounds. He looks much smaller. Burage was listed as five-foot-11 and almost 100 pounds heavier. “He did seem pretty big,” Alavarado said.
Alvarado was trying to prevent Burage from swinging the sword and he succeeded in grappling with the taller, heavier man, taking the sword from him and throwing it on the tracks. In the melee, however, Burage had succeeded in wounding Alvarado, he later found blood coming from a wound on his arm that later took 15 stitches to close, and his right earlobe had been slashed.
Now weaponless, Burage tried to throw Alvarado off the tracks onto the street 35 feet below but Alvarado, an ex-Marine and former police officer, succeeded in flipping Burage onto the tracks and pinned the struggling man, right next to the hole to the street.
Then came Burage’s most extreme maneuver. He reached over and grabbed the third rail in an attempt to electrocute them both. But, thankfully, the operator’s foresight had left the third rail dead.
Now came the prayers. Burage had told Alvarado he was the devil and the anti-Christ. Alvarado stared into his eyes and began to pray for him, out loud, and the prayers seemed to work. Burage calmed down, enough for Alvarado to tell him he had to get him on the train safely and to do so he had to put his hands behind his back. Burage complied and Alvarado pulled down the suspect’s leather jacket over his wrists as a form of handcuffs.
“He said, ‘I’m the devil and I’m going to kill you,’” Alvarado said. “I immediately started praying and he stopped fighting and he became submissive. I told him for your safety we need to get you on that train.”
Alvarado walked Burage onto the train and told the passengers in that car to move to the back. They were happy to comply.
Police officers on the Roosevelt Street station had been informed that there was a man on the tracks. When they went to investigate they were told by the CTA that the man had been captured and was being held on a train coming into the Roosevelt Street station.
“Most of all, honestly, if God wasn’t in my life, I would have killed the guy,” Alvarado said. “If I hadn’t started to pray, we would have still been fighting and one of us would have been dead.”
While all this was going on, Alvarado’s family was at Great America and he waited until they were on their way home before he called and told his wife that he had been in an emergency situation. It wasn’t till later that he told her about the guy with the sword and the battle on the tracks.
Alvarado said the police told him that Burage had admitted he was out to kill someone that day, first at the Chinatown station, then at the Roosevelt station and when he was thwarted both times, he was intent on killing the little man who confronted him on the Orange Line tracks.
So the actions of Alvarado and Demery probably saved innocent lives, and Alvarado later had to save his own life and probably that of his assailant.
“No matter where you work,” said CTA President Forest Claypool, “it’s rare when you get to say that someone has done something both brave and heroic.”
“For me it was just a wound on my arm,” Alvarado said. “If he had got to Roosevelt it could have been much worse.”
On July 18, the Chicago Transit Board commended Alvarado and Demery for their actions. Burage, 30, of the 1000 block of West 19th Street, has been charged with aggravated battery.