Detroit Free Press Reporter Steve Neavling Sounds Like a Hero [Updated w/interview]

I checked my Facebook feed this afternoon and ran across a jaw-dropping post from Detroit Free Press reporter Steve Neavling, who I friended in April after his fantastic article on the effort to save Detroit’s famous Kronk Gym.

The following is taken directly from his profile, first post came before midnight on Tuesday. We’ve reached out to Steve and will be speaking with him later today More from Steve after the jump:

Steve Neavling: Surreal night. While driving, I saw an overturned SUV with a man trapped inside. I climbed onto the SUV and pulled a bleeding, screaming man from the car while gas was gushing out. Luckily the man survived, but not before a bunch of kids were yelling at a woman for “snitching” because she was telling police what she saw.

Thankfully Steve is not one of those journalists that believes in standing to the side and taking pictures instead of helping. According to a Steve the incident took place shortly after 7:30 p.m. near an underpass on Conant St. in Hamtramck south of Cleveland Middle School. He added this update a few hours later:

The weird thing was that the guy trapped in the car didn’t speak English. He kept screaming a name, flailing his hands in the air. I was so afraid to look in the car and see someone maimed or killed. Turns out, he was speaking in Arabic and calling out to Allah. The guy who hit him was swearing about the minor damage to his Hummer.

I spoke to Steve this evening and got the ful story from his point of view. Unfortunately no one could be reached with Hamtramck Police to confirm the accident but we’ll try again Thursday  morning.

Steve was driving from his home in Midtown to Gross Pointe to attend his girlfriend’s father’s birthday party. After taking the wrong exit he found himself on Conant St. on his way to try and get back on the highway when he was an SUV, overturned onto the driver’s side and wedged under an overpass. Neavling saw a man’s bloody fingers reaching to get out of the top of the passenger’s side of the vehicle, which was now facing upward.

"I didn’t even think, I just slammed on the brakes and ran over to the car," Neavling said.

At that point he said there were other people nearby running and dialing 911 on their cell phones but others were yelling to stay back due to the gas leaking rapidly from the vehicle. Steve climbed on top of the vehicle where he saw a man in what he described as Muslim garb muttering something in a language other than English. Neavling said in addition to the driver many of the bystanders, including children, were also dressed in Muslim garb and didn’t appear to speak English.

"One thing that struck me as odd is that when I was running over to the SUV, no one wanted to help at first," he said. "I don’t know if it was the potential of the car exploding [due to the gas], but no one was going up to the truck."

Neavling said it wasn’t until he climbed onto the truck and grabbed the driver’s bloody arm that another Muslim man helped him pull the victim to safety.

"There was glass all over his body, he was bleeding from the fingertips all the way down," Neavling said. "It was difficult to get him up. I didn’t want to hurt him, he looked like he obviously broke his arm, he had lost a lot of skin on his arm."

Despite pulling the driver to safety Neavling was then forced to steel himself for the most harrowing part of the experience.

"The thing that scared me most, I couldn’t understand him but he kept yelling a name. I thought someone else must have been in the car," Steve said, describing how prepared himself to look into the vehicle and see a dead body, only to find no other victims. Neavling said he cried from the relief.

"I found out later he was just praying to Allah, saying ‘Allah, Allah, Allah, over and over again."

As a city reporter for Detroit’s paper of record, Neavling covers the Mayor’s office, the city council, racial issues, poverty and housing among other topics. In other words, no one would have more reason to be cynical about the troubles that plague the Motor City. Especially considering Neavling himself was robbed at gunpoint earlier this summer while taking photos early one morning of the now-demolished old Cass Tech High School.

Which is what makes his reaction to the events of Tuesday evening so refreshing. Neavling described how after the incident there were African-Americans, Arab-Americans and others in the street helping each other without any notice of racial differences.

"An African-American guy came up and hugged me and said ‘this makes me wonder why we fight over our differences.’ It was just a really emotional experience," Neavling said.

"It renewed my passion for having people of all races and religions comes together as one for anything, especially to save a life."

After waiting roughly twelve minutes the police arrived on the scene and an ambulance soon afterward. Neavling said the driver survived but he intends to check on his status on Thursday. His final thoughts on the issue should be scripture for anyone that lives in Detroit or chooses to engage in journalism in this modern age, where claiming to be a dispassionate observer can no longer be used as a screen for apathy or neglect.

"I care so much about Detroit, I want so much for it to grow and become a better place. I want the racial problems to stop," Neavling said. "To have a hand in that as a reporter means the world to me and it’s a job that I’m honored to have. That’s why when something [like this] happens I don’t want to just be a reporter."

This post was updated Thursday, September 15 at 1:07 a.m.

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