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Deputy pulls suicidal woman off bridge rail

"Deputy Rob Hardcastle spoke in a reassuring tone to the woman standing outside the railing of the Deception Pass bridge. He talked about his own life and told her she isn't alone in the world. He tried to show her he cares about what happens to her.Janice Prusack listened for about 20 minutes Tuesday morning as traffic backed up for miles on either side of the bridge. Then the 41-year-old woman looked at Hardcastle for a moment and said, I'm sorry. Pray for me. She let go of the bar.In the blink of an eye, Hardcastle grabbed the falling woman around the chest. Island County Chief Criminal Deputy Chris Ellis and several other deputies jumped in to help and together they managed to pull the suicidal woman over the rail to safety.It was pretty dramatic, Ellis said. If Hardcastle wasn't there, she would have gone over.At 7:49 a.m. Tuesday, a caller reported to 911 dispatchers that a person was hanging off the side of the bridge, according to the 911 log. Skagit County Deputy Paul Arroyos was first at the scene, followed by Hardcastle, Ellis and Lt. Jeff Myers.As the Island County Sheriff's Department negotiator, Hardcastle is trained to talk to people in stressful situations. Ellis said Prusack was reluctant to talk and would only say that everything was wrong and she didn't want to live anymore. Hardcastle still managed to keep her attention by telling stories from his own experience. It gave him a chance to move in close enough to grab her.He wanted to impress upon her that there was someone out there who truly cares if she lives or dies and that was him, Ellis said. At one point I thought he had connected with her and she was ready to come in, but then she let go of the railing, he added.While Hardcastle and the other men were talking with Prusack, other deputies located her 1995 Honda Civic parked on the Whidbey side of the bridge. They were able to identify the Bellevue resident from the license plate number.Ellis said they were lucky that a team of construction workers were working on the bridge at the time and were able to immediately stop traffic.Prusack was transported to Whidbey General Hospital after she was pulled to safety.Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said the scenic bridge hanging 180 feet over violently swirling water has become a hot spot for suicides. He says the department gets reports about about once a week of people heading to the bridge to jump off or people on the bridge acting like they might take the long plunge.The deputies stake out the bridge after they get such a report, he said, but fortunately many of the calls tend to be false alarms. Still, the department knows of two people who took fatal leaps from the bridge so far this year.The lure of the bridge seems to be in the scenery. Hawley said people who have contemplated suicide said they were drawn to the bridge by its beauty and grandeur. You can reach staff reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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