Alabama railroad workers called 'heroes' for role in finding Johns Island 4-year-old

(L-R) Donnie Peppers, Mark Burke, Chris Jackson (Source: WBRC)
(L-R) Donnie Peppers, Mark Burke, Chris Jackson (Source: WBRC)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Donnie Peppers, Mark Burke, Chris Jackson.

Those are the names of the three Norfolk Southern railroad workers who decided to call 9-1-1 and report a suspicious vehicle.

It had a little girl inside and a man who seemed unconscious in Riverside, Alabama.

Little did they know then, they had encountered Johns Island 4-year-old Heidi Todd whose disappearance had grabbed the Lowcountry's attention for more than a day. Police chief Rick Oliver then helped track down a suspect later found to be Thomas Lawton Evans.

The three men spoke with media in Alabama Friday.

"As far as being heroes and everything like that, we're heroes every day to our families," Burke said. "The real heroes I think would be these guys, Chief Oliver and the guys that deal with this stuff every day."

Jackson said that Burke was the one who called 911, but it was a group decision to make the call. Burke added that they don't call 911 on every situation they see on the rails, but in that situation, they decided to pick up the phone.

"That was the first time for me I've seen a small child in a vehicle like that," Burke said. " I mean I'll do that every time. If it happened 100 times, I mean its never going to happen again I hope, but I would have done the same thing."

Chief Oliver said if it weren't for the men, he wouldn't have known the car was there because of the small size of the Riverside, Alabama police department.

"These guys are in my mind heroes," Oliver said. "They were going their job just as I have a job to do but they went beyond the scope of their job to contact me and stood by."

Burke said all the men are fathers and were just in the right place at the right time. He added they haven't met the Todd family.

As for what's next for the men?

"A situation like this, you're never going to forget this, but life goes on we're going to do what we do," Burke said.  "...leaving here we're going to go to work"

On Friday afternoon, Norfolk Southern responded to the men's actions.

"On the railroad, safety is priority one," Norfolk Southern spokesperson Susan Terpay said. "Before starting any job, employees commit to working safely and looking out for one another. Mark Burke and Chris Jackson looked beyond the railroad tracks that day, and recognizing an unsafe situation, took action. We are thankful for their efforts and proud that they are Norfolk Southern employees."

Copyright 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved.