News

Not all succeed with attempts

State Trooper William Dennis got to Deception Pass Bridge Tuesday just in time to watch a suicidal man jump to the rocks below, dying instantly.

It wasn’t the first or probably the last time, unfortunately, that the veteran officer has had to deal with distraught people who come to the scenic bridge to take the final leap into the abyss. He says it’s a fact of life for law enforcement officers who work in the area of Deception Pass.

Fortunately, it doesn’t always end the same way. Dennis and Ranger James Spaulding of the Washington Parks Department were honored Friday in a ceremony at the State Patrol office in Oak Harbor for preventing a woman from jumping off the bridge. State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas sent them honorary coins as “a small token” of his appreciation.

But for Dennis, who’s shy about the praise, the most meaningful thing about the incident is the letter he received from the woman he helped save. “She wrote me a nice little letter,” he said. “She said she’s putting her life back together.”

At about 7:20 a.m. on March 2, Dennis responded to a report of a despondent woman on the bridge. He found the woman standing in the middle of the bridge and saw her throw something into the water. He stopped traffic in both directions.

The woman repeatedly reassured Dennis that she was fine, but he noticed that she seemed lethargic, cold and wet. He asked her what she threw into the water and she told him it was a cellular phone, which she said she wouldn’t be needing anymore.

At that point, Dennis said he was pretty sure “we’ve got a problem here.” He went and found her car, which was unlocked with keys, her purse, Valium pills and a note inside. He requested backup from the parks department and Ranger Spaulding responded.

Dennis came up with what he jokingly calls his “grandiose plan” for saving the woman. He had Spaulding approach the woman from one direction while he approached her from the other. When he was close enough, Dennis said he was able to speak to the woman again and realized that she was very serious about ending her life. He was able to get her to open up about her problems.

“They want someone to listen to them,” he said. “If you just listen to them, they sometimes talk themselves out of the situation.”

When the two men were close enough, they grabbed the woman and took her into custody. She became very upset. She strongly resisted and swore at the men, but they were able to get her into Dennis’ patrol car without harm. He transported her to Whidbey General Hospital, where she was treated for a possible drug overdose.

One of the unusual things about the incident, Dennis said, was that he misread his work calendar and came in an hour early that day. He wasn’t supposed to start work until 8 a.m. “It makes you wonder if I was supposed to be there,” he said.

Like many people, Dennis is dumbfounded about why suicidal people are attracted to the bridge. With a vertical drop of more than 185 feet into the swirling waters below, the attempts are usually successful, though a handful of people have lived.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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