Wednesday, February 5, 1997
Only reluctance evident in hero
is to take credit

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Late one Saturday night, on his way home from work, Stephen Zein pulled into a gas station. Before he could gas up, he turned into a hero.

But don't tell him that. He blushes easily. And he doesn't want any special thanks for his heroics.

He swears: ''I didn't do anything special.''

You be the judge.

The gas station lights up a dark corner of Over-the-Rhine. Near the driveway, Stephen spotted a police car. And an officer in trouble.

A drunk was resisting arrest. The cop, Kathleen Ferenczy, was trying to handcuff him. She had one bracelet around his left wrist. But his right hand was free. Every time she grabbed for it, he gave her a shove.

Seeing this, Stephen stopped his van and got out. Without saying a word, he twisted the drunk's left arm behind his back and placed him face-down on the hood of the police car. After the drunk was in cuffs, 20 cops responded to Kathleen Ferenczy's ''officer needs assistance'' call. Stephen gave one of them his name. Then, he left.

''It was not a big deal,'' he insists. ''It didn't even last 30 seconds.''

For his half-minute of help in December, Stephen has earned an official commendation. Last week, the mayor's office called and invited him to City Hall to receive a resolution from city council.

At first, he didn't believe his ears. ''I thought it was a crank call,'' he says. ''Why honor me?''

Between ''whereases,'' the resolution explains why: ''Stephen Zein responded without a moment's hesitation and with no concern for his personal safety.''

He admits he didn't think about getting hurt. ''I just saw someone who needed help. I figured two against one would win, and we did.''

It never entered his mind that the drunk might have friends who would like to trash a Good Samaritan.

He never gave it a thought that the next day was his daughter's third birthday. And if this guy had had a gun and had used it, Deena Zein's dad might not have been around to help his little girl blow out the candles on her cake.

''All I thought was, 'I hope this police woman doesn't think I'm against her.'''

Kathleen Ferenczy - and almost any other cop on the beat in Over-the-Rhine, and way too many other neighborhoods - could be forgiven if she thought that. In her 1 1/2 years on the street, she's never had a civilian come to her aid.

She's had ''lots of people just watch when you try to make an arrest.'' So, she was more than a little shocked when she was helped by a guy in black pants and a white tuxedo shirt.

That's Stephen's work outfit. At night, he's a captain at the Waterfront. By day, he's a fifth-year construction management student at the University of Cincinnati.

Whether he's waiting tables or studying how to manage a construction site, his job is to make sure everything is all right.

''If I see something wrong,'' he says, ''I just have to correct it.''

He just wants to leave it at that.

''Please, don't let this get overblown,'' he pleads. ''I just helped someone.''

But this was not a Boy Scout helping a little old lady across a busy street. He helped a cop handcuff a violent drunk.

''The police help us all the time,'' he says. ''They make our lives safe. If every citizen would help, it would make the streets safer for all of us.

''So, tell me,'' he says, ''why is this such a big deal?''

Because it's the sorry fashion in some parts of town to cheer for the bad guy. When the police arrive, you throw things and roll garbage cans in their way.

In other neighborhoods, doors close at the sound of trouble. The police show up, and window shades go down. Mouths close. No one knows a thing.

Stephen Zein blinks his eyes in disbelief at this explanation. This is not the America he came to 18 years ago. He left his native Jordan at the age of 17. He came to America all by himself.

''I wanted freedom,'' he says.

''You can walk the streets here and feel safe. That's freedom.''

He's not going to sit by and let anyone take it away.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax 768-8340.