PennDOT maintenance crews are tasked with taking care of our state highways, from bridge and base repairs to plowing, paving, and sweeping. But Philadelphia County foreman Julio Torres and his crew's biggest achievement may have been saving a young man’s life from a drug overdose.
It was just another day on the job for Julio Torres, Gregory Lynch, Andre Coles, Barry Sanders, William Howell, and Angelo Hernandez. They were on their way to a job site, driving on a ramp to Interstate 95 when they noticed a young man parked on the shoulder with his windows rolled down and loud music playing.
"We were always taught to check for unusual things so I told one of my guys to do me a favor and knock on the man's window to make sure he was alright," Torres said. "When there was no response from the young man, we dialed 911."
Once a state trooper arrived, Torres and his team assisted him in searching the man's car for anything that might help identify him and came across a folder. Inside was a telephone number. He decided to call.
"A woman answered and I informed her that I work for the state and explained I had a young man here, I don't know if you might know him," Torres recalled. He then proceeded to describe the man. "She said, that's my son."
Torres explained to the woman what was happening. By that time, paramedics had arrived at the scene and injected the young man with Narcan, upon finding illegal substances on him. Before hanging up, Torres gave the woman all the information he could, including which hospital they were taking her son.
Later that afternoon, Torres got a call from the woman, asking him and the others to come down to the hospital. She wanted to thank the men who helped save her son's life.
"The doctors said if we hadn't called 911 when we did, the young man would have died," Torres said. "We learned the man was just 21 years old and we gave him a little counseling. We said listen, you got your whole life ahead of you and you're putting your mom through something you shouldn't be doing. You got a second chance here."
Looking back, Torres says he believes God put him in the right place at the right time. He and the guys were supposed to take a different route to the job site that day but switched last minute to avoid a few traffic lights.
Every now and then, Torres receives an update from the man's mother about her son's recovery. Most recently, she told him that her son is doing great and encouraged Torres to visit him sometime at his work.
Torres changed her son's life that day, but in many ways, the ordeal changed his as well. After saving the 21-year-old man's life, Torres and his crew found themselves in a similar situation just a few months later when they saw a young man driving erratically upon returning to their job site after a lunch break. The man motioned to them for help and the crew quickly drove over to the man to assist. By the time they made it to the other side of the highway, a state trooper was already there assisting the driver. Torres and the others provided a safety barrier to protect the trooper from traffic and one of the PennDOT workers performed CPR on the driver, reviving him. The driver was another young man who had overdosed.
When asked if these two situations have changed him, Torres said it made him realize just how bad the drug epidemic is getting.
"As construction workers, we're trained to keep our eyes open for anything unusual at our job site," Torres explained. "Now, I'm kind of expecting something like this to happen; I'm on the lookout. Anything I see, I want to stop and see if everything's OK."
For their efforts, Torres, Lynch, Coles, Sanders, Howell, and Hernandez have each been nominated for a Workplace Hero award that recognizes PennDOT employees who have saved a co-worker or member of the public's life during work hours.
Are you or someone you know suffering from a prescription drug or heroin problem? We can help. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for information about treatment resources. Your call to 1-800-662-HELP is completely confidential. This hotline, staffed by trained professionals, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is available in both English and Spanish. Additional resources can be found at the Treating and Preventing Opioid Addiction guide on PA.gov.