Off-duty Ga. cop lauded for saving men from burning train
City leaders called Officer Almedin Ajanovic a “hero” for helping two conductors escape after the train derailed
By Asia Simone Burns
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
LILBURN, Ga. — When a 170-car train slid from its track and burst into flames Sunday, a Lilburn police officer ran right toward the fire to help those on board, officials said.
City leaders called Officer Almedin Ajanovic a “hero” for helping two conductors escape as the fire drew nearer to them.
In an email, Lilburn Mayor Tim Dunn said he is proud of the police department and “individuals like AJ Ajanovic who run toward danger to assist those in trouble.”
Ajanovic was heading home from an off-duty job about 1:30 a.m. when he heard radio dispatches about the train derailment, Lilburn police spokesman Capt. Scott Bennett said Monday. Authorities said a washout caused by storms and flooding caused the CSX train to leave the tracks. Police later determined that 38 of the train’s cars derailed.
Ajanovic immediately changed his course and headed to Main Street and Camp Creek Road to help respond to the incident, according to Bennett.
Three other officers were already in the area trying to figure out where the derailed train was located, Ajanovic wrote in a police incident report. Ajanovic started running down the tracks with his flashlight in an attempt to find the train, the incident report said.
“As I started running, I heard a loud explosion and observed huge flames go up in the air,” he wrote.
A massive fireball had erupted in the sky, Bennett said. Radio dispatches noted that people were screaming in the area, he added.
About a half-mile down the track, Ajanovic saw the engine turned over on its side and resting in a body of water, the incident report said. Red liquid was flowing from the train, covering the creek underneath, Ajanovic said. Less than 200 feet away, a wall of fire blazed behind a train car.
“There’s a train car sitting literally upright and right behind it is just a gulf of flames just going up in the air,” he told Channel 2 Action News.
“Unknown what the liquid was or what dangers it posed, I knew I had to act quick,” he said.
Ajanovic heard the voices of two distressed men and called out to them, officials said. He spotted a man standing on the train and climbed atop the engine with him.
The man, who was one of the conductors, indicated that he and another man were the only people in the overturned car.
“Ignoring the heat from the fire and a ‘danger high voltage’ sign on the side of the train, SPO Ajanovic climbed on the wrecked rail cars to help both men down,” Bennett said.
In his body camera footage, Ajanovic can be heard telling one of the conductors, “I got you. I got you, brother. Yeah, that was a huge explosion. So let’s get the hell out of here, man.”
Ajanovic led the conductors away from the train, then checked to make sure no one else on board had been left behind, the incident report said. Both conductors received medical treatment, officials said.
It’s gonna be a long cleanup after 37 train cars and 2 locomotives derail in Lilburn. It happened after heavy rain washed out the tracks. Thankfully nobody was hurt. CSX officials tell me at least two cars contains ethanol. An evacuation has been lifted (courtesy Gwinnett Fire) pic.twitter.com/Og0aXDeHcP— Eric Perry (@Ericperrytv) October 11, 2020
One of them told Ajanovic there were hazardous materials on the train, the incident report said. He and other officers worked to evacuate neighbors who lived within a half-mile of the incident.
They were allowed to return to their homes about 5:30 a.m. after crews brought the fire and hazmat situation under control, Gwinnett County officials previously said.
“I’m just grateful that both of those guys are able to go back to their families,” Ajanovic told Channel 2.
“We can be so proud of our officers and the selfless attitude they bring to a most challenging job,” Lilburn City Councilman Emil Powella said. “Congrats to Officer AJ on his heroic actions. It’s great to live in Lilburn.”
©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)