When Andy Chan and his partner slipped through the railway fence at Frankford Junction, devastation stretched out before them.
It was May 2015. Amtrak Train 188 had just crashed, and lay crumpled like an accordion. The dead and injured were scattered on the slope. Highway Patrolman Chan and his partner, Kyle Cross, were the first to reach the rear car. They did not pause, rushing to unload passengers in the chaos.
“What I remember from Andy was his poise — he stayed so calm, he really just led the way,” Cross recalled. “I followed his lead.”
That’s the kind of cop Chan is, his friends say. Never hesitating. Always there to help.
Now, he and his family need help.
Because Highway Patrolman Chan is in the fight of his life.
Andy Chan, a 49-year-old father of three, had a very specific dream growing up: not just to be a cop, but a highway patrolman.
As a kid in Chinatown, he’d watch the police who came into his parent’s restaurant with awe, especially the leather-boot-clad ones who roared up on motorcycles.
Highway. The elite.
“That was the only place he strived to be in,” his wife, Teng, told me.
But he’d have to earn it.
He was a bike cop before Highway Patrol, but he showed off his wheels to the neighborhood kids with pride, even mentoring some onto the force.
“He’d tell us how much fun he was having being a cop,” remembers Office Chris Lai, a Chinatown kid who followed Andy into the Police Department and counts him as a mentor. “He follows the rules. He’s probably one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”
In 2004, Chan made Highway.
He’s known for the pride and care he takes in the job. His uniform gleams. His enthusiasm is infectious. Early on, he took to greeting people with his unit’s title — instead of yelling “Hi,” he shouts, “Highway!” when he walks into headquarters. When he met Teng 12 years ago, that’s how he introduced himself, too. “I’m Highway,” he said.
“That’s an Andy Chan thing,” said Cross, who’s now a sergeant. “That’s how we know he’s in the building.”
But Andy hasn’t been in the building in nearly a year. He was riding his motorcycle to work along Rhawn Street on Jan. 3 when an elderly driver accidentally hit him.
Andy was thrown 25 feet. He suffered a severe brain injury. Doctors told Teng he might not last the night.
He survived emergency surgery. But progress has been slow.
First, a prolonged coma. Now, what doctors call a minimally conscious state. He’s not quite awake, but he recognizes family and friends, reacts when they visit.
Doctors remain optimistic but cannot tell Teng how much he’ll improve. Andy’s wounded brain, they tell her, must form new pathways.
But if anyone can pull through this, it’s Andy, Teng believes.
“He has the heart of a lion,” she said. “If he wants to do something, he’s going to fight to do it, no matter what stands in the way.”
A show of support
Teng took six months off work as a pharmacist to be with her husband. Her family takes shifts to be with him and meet his appointments. They have come to terms with the fact that there is a long road of recovery and care ahead.
Cross visits most days, too.
“I say to him: `You’re doing great. That there’s so much support within his family and the Police Department,’ ” Cross said.
On Thursday, plenty more officers are planning to show that support at the Andy Chan Holiday Pub Tour in Old City. A $20 donation gets a raffle ticket and drink specials at a half-dozen Second Street spots. The response has been overwhelming, said organizer John Kitzinger, a former cop and FBI agent, and now a deputy chief at the Attorney General’s Office.
Every dollar will go to the Chan family, through the Families Behind the Badge Children’s Foundation, the same charity that runs the annual Ben to the Shore bike ride.
To a man, Andy’s colleagues tell Teng they never questioned showing up for the Chans.
“Andy would be there for me,” Cross said.
He marks every bit of progress for the partner who made him even more proud to wear the Highway Patrol uniform. Some days that’s success with physical therapy. Some days it’s just the spark of recognition when Cross walks in the door.
“When he sees me in uniform,” Cross said, “he sheds a tear.”