COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Police say they've identified and arrested the man who pushed a commuter onto the CTA Blue Line tracks in August in an apparently unprovoked attack that nearly landed the victim on the deadly electrified third rail.
Charged with attempted first-degree murder is Chad Estep, 34, a data analyst who earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Northwestern University earlier this year, according to court testimony. He had no criminal history in Chicago before being arrested Monday night at his Wicker Park home.
Several people, including the victim, identified Estep as the attacker, prosecutors said. And phone records place Estep's cellphone at the same Loop subway station as the victim at the time of the attack.
Estep was ordered held on $200,000 bail during a brief bond hearing Tuesday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave.
According to Assistant State's Attorney Erin Antonietti, the victim — identified in court records as 46-year-old Ben Benedict — was heading home from a Cubs game Aug. 1 when he entered the Washington Blue Line station at 19 N. Dearborn St.
Benedict had not been drinking, prosecutors said, but Estep appeared intoxicated when he hopped a turnstile at the station and briefly waited for a train.
The men had never met before that evening, authorities said, and did not speak before the attack.
According to Antonietti, Estep fielded a phone call and then used both hands to shove Benedict from behind onto the tracks.
Benedict, who sprained his wrist in the surprise fall, nearly hit the third rail, prosecutors said. When he tried to get up, Estep wouldn't help the man and even tried to block other people from lifting Benedict off the tracks, according to authorities.
A train arrived shortly after Benedict was able to get off the tracks.
Benedict told the Tribune he screamed for help and that his attacker looked "like a lion looking at his prey."
"The offender then menaced the victim and would not allow him to climb back onto the platform until bystanders intervened and assisted the victim," the Chicago Police Department said in a statement.
Someone who knows Estep recognized him after a video of the incident was released, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. Estep was brought in for a lineup and later identified by Benedict.
According to Estep's LinkedIn page, he works as a senior data analyst at health care company Procured Health. The company declined to comment.
Estep, who earned his Ph.D. in March and recently went into the private sector, was married about a year ago. His LinkedIn profile's bio reads: "Ex patch-clamp electrophysiologist with a deep love for neurotoxins and ion channels. Leaving academia is tough, but it's the correct decision and I'm doing it. Next step: data analytics outside the ivory tower."
Estep's defense attorney, Vadim Glozman, said he has "serious doubts" about the validity of Estep's identification by witnesses.
“I’ve seen the stills from the video, and they’re not very clear," the defense attorney told Cook County Judge Michael Clancy. “There’s no video of this happening, judge. ... We have a 34-year-old young professional who’s just starting off his career. ... He has absolutely no criminal history. ... There’s absolutely nothing to suggest any violent behavior in his past or in his future.”
After court, Glozman told reporters Estep "lives with his wife quietly, and he's a productive member of society."
He also said he expects Estep to be exonerated.
“Quite honestly," Glozman said, "it’s a shame that Mr. Estep has to go through all this. The allegations put forth by the state are extremely serious. And as far as I can see, there’s very minimal evidence against Mr. Estep. We’re going to do our own further, thorough investigation. At the end of that, I expect Mr. Estep to be exonerated.”
On Tuesday, a man who described himself as a family friend answered the door at Estep's Wicker Park condo. The friend said he was there to look after Estep's dog and declined to comment further. Estep's wife has owned the property since June 2014, according to county records.