Crime Northwestern Ph.D. grad charged with pushing man onto Chicago train tracks

19:59  11 october  2017
19:59  11 october  2017 Source:   MSN

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The attack at a Loop CTA station was the stuff of public-transit nightmares: a man waiting on a train platform eyed a nearby stranger, came up behind him and shoved him onto the tracks below.

The assailant tried to block the victim from climbing back onto the platform, but seconds before a train pulled up to the station, he managed to scramble to safety with the help of others.

On Tuesday, more than two months after the frightening attack at the CTA Blue Line's Washington Street station, the unlikeliest of defendants - a recent doctoral graduate in neuroscience from Northwestern University - stepped into a courtroom to face charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery in a public place.

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Chad M. Estep, 34, a slight, bearded man wearing a purple plaid shirt, was blank-faced and silent as he stood before a judge who held that he would have to pay $20,000 to bond out. Moments earlier, Estep's lawyer had said his client couldn't post more than $5,000.

A motive remained a mystery, but Cook County prosecutors said Estep appeared intoxicated on surveillance footage, leaning against a pillar as he watched the victim moments before the attack.

It didn't appear that any family members showed up at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for Estep, who lives with his wife in an apartment in the Wicker Park neighborhood.

Estep completed the doctoral neuroscience program at Northwestern in March, according to school spokesman Bob Rowley. His LinkedIn page said his work on his Ph.D. was "to understand the cause and progression of Parkinson's disease."

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A Chicago Transit Authority bus passes a CTA garage on Chicago's West Side in this Oct. 12, 2007 photo. © M. Spencer Green/AP Photo A Chicago Transit Authority bus passes a CTA garage on Chicago's West Side in this Oct. 12, 2007 photo. Alan Lewis, a classmate at Northwestern who co-authored papers with Estep, said he didn't spend time with Estep outside the university lab but that Estep got along well with his classmates.

"He was a bright guy and a hard worker," said Lewis, who now works at Yale University. "This certainly is unexpected."

Estep graduated with honors from Michigan State University in zoology in 2006, according to an online copy of his resume.

Estep's wife and his father both declined to comment on the arrest when reached by phone.

The attack occurred late on Aug. 1 when Ben Benedict, 46, was waiting for a Blue Line train at the Washington station after watching a Cubs game, according to police.

Assistant State's Attorney Erin Antonietti said Estep came up behind Benedict and shoved him onto the tracks with both hands, knocking him perilously close to the electrified third rail.

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Estep then tried to block Benedict from getting back onto the platform - and even tried to stop others at the station from assisting Benedict, she said.

Benedict finally climbed to safety just seconds before a train arrived, Antoinetti said, while Estep managed to escape on foot.

Police did not issue an alert after the attack. Video and a photo of a suspect were not released until the Chicago Tribune approached police about a month later. The surveillance video showed a man jumping the turnstile at the subway station but did not show the attack.

Police detectives were able to arrest Estep with the help of someone he knows who had knowledge of the incident, according to Anthony Guglielimi, the department's chief spokesman.

Guglielmi said this "associate" contacted police around the time the department released the video.

At the bond hearing, prosecutors said police received several anonymous tips on the identity of the suspect after the surveillance photos were publicly released.

Police obtained Estep's cellphone records that corroborated he was in the area of the Blue Line station at the time of the attack, according to prosecutors.

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Estep was arrested at his home shortly after 5 p.m. Monday, police said.

Benedict later identified him in a police lineup, according to prosecutors.

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Estep's attorney, Vadim Glozman, tried to cast doubt on prosecutors' story Tuesday, calling the surveillance images unclear.

"The allegations put forth by the state are extremely serious, and there's as far as I can see, very minimal evidence against Mr. Estep," Glozman told reporters after the bond hearing.

In court, Glozman identified Estep as data analyst "who's just starting off his career."

He has no history of violence, the lawyer said.

Judge Michael Clancy ordered Estep held on $200,000 bond. He would have to post $20,000 to win his release.

The victim of the attack told the Tribune on Tuesday he would have no comment on the arrest.

"Due to the ongoing investigation, I will not be making any further statements regarding the incident on the Blue Line," Benedict said. "I will not be returning any phone calls or emails, nor will I be providing any interviews."

In September, Benedict said he was standing near the edge of the platform when he felt a hard jab to the back and tumbled to the tracks 5 feet below. He said he stopped a foot short of the electrified third rail.

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He looked down the tracks but didn't see a train approaching. He then looked up and saw the man who apparently had pushed him staring at Benedict with a blank look on his face.

"It was like a lion looking at his prey, that's kinda what it looked like to me," he said.

Benedict tried to get onto the platform, he said, but the man kept blocking his way, pointing his finger at him. When Benedict yelled for help and people tried to come to his aid, the man tried to keep them away until they were able to form a circle and help Benedict off the tracks.

The police did not initially issue an alert, saying it was thought to be an isolated incident. But Benedict said he was concerned the man might do the same thing to someone else.

"And if he needs help, we need to get him off the street," Benedict said at the time.

Chicago Tribune's Rosemary Regina Sobol contributed.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

kdouglas@chicagotribune.com

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

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