By Stephen Owsinski
For any law enforcement officer, saving a life can be a most-fulfilling experience, especially when the circumstances are such that the person saved emphatically wished to end it all. Suffice it to say, mixed feelings come from such a police-involved feat: pulling (literally) a life from the brink of suicide and back to salvation is enormously emotionally-tolling. Jesse Turano, a policeman with the NY/NJ Port Authority Police Department, has done it. Not once. Not twice, but 12 times, all from the same bridge.
The latest save came at approximately 6:40 p.m. on Tuesday, February 17, 2015, when an unoccupied automobile was reported on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge. Officer Turano and his partner, Officer Brendan Mulderrig, were assigned to investigate the “suspicious vehicle.” Once on scene and determining the car was unattended, they extended their scope. No strangers to the notoriety of people jumping from the GW Bridge, Turano and Mulderigg scanned the span nearest the empty vehicle. As he yelled into his cell phone, a male was spotted.
With his feet squeezed together atop a one-square-foot metal beam overlooking the darkened, icy Hudson River 200 feet below, the jumper continued screaming into his cell phone. Officer Turano has experienced this before.
According to the NY Post, Turano described the situation and his actions: “What I did is tell him, ‘Relax! Relax! All I want to do is talk to you.’ All he would say was, ‘Get way! Get away! All I want to do is die!’?”
Since the suicidal man was perilously perched atop the limits of a 1-square-foot steel beam, “if he moved an inch or two to the right or left, he was gone,” Turano told a NY Post reporter.
Personally and professionally involved in physical fitness, Turano possessed the training and strength necessary to endure and succeed in what was to transpire. Capitalizing on the moment, Officers Turano and Mulderigg noticed the jumper was distracted by his cell phone.
Seizing the opportunity, Turano grabbed the man by his jacket as Mulderigg took hold of his partner, said PAPD spokesman Joe Pentangelo. At the end of a human chain coupling two determined cops, a dangling 37-year-old civilian was on his way to salvation. A second chance was provided by two uniformed strangers, one of whom was no stranger to the circumstances.
Pulled from the brink of certain death, the suicidal man put up a fight as Turano and Mulderigg effected restraint techniques. No injuries were reported. As is customary in such an incident, the suicidal individual was transported to a nearby hospital for psychiatric evaluation/treatment.
Turano, a nine-year police veteran, has been assigned to the George Washington Bridge since 2010. Turano, one of a 1,700-officer police force whose vast jurisdiction encompasses millions of pedestrians in all of its facilities (airports, bridges, tunnels, marine ports, railway systems, commerce centers), has tallied 12 life-saving commendations. Despite the dire circumstances which culminated in each of these 12 incidents, Turano’s duty-bound Police Officers Oath was not only fulfilled, but produced the exponential dividends of what 12 saved lives can offer. “To Protect and Serve,” exemplified.
There is no denying the depth of duty involving a cop’s life-saving measures. PAPD’s website indicates 102 million vehicles per year traverse the span of the GW Bridge. Not all motorists have designs on merely crossing over the Hudson River below the structure; sadly, some opt to use the bridge as a means of self-destruction.
In 2014, 18 suicidal people stood atop the George Washington Bridge before plunging to their deaths. In that same year, PAPD police officers prevented 75 others from jumping from the bridge, according to PAPD statistics. PAPD spokesman Pentangelo confirmed 15 suicides and 49 saves in 2013, all from the GW Bridge. In 2012, PAPD mandated increased foot and vehicular patrols on the bridge, during which time 43 suicide attempts were chronicled, 18 of which were successful.
University professor Michael Rockland, who wrote a book about the George Washington Bridge, bolstered PAPD’s protocols and vigilance in preempting bridge-related suicides. “Policemen would actually drive up to me and ask me what I was doing while I stopped on the bridge to do research for my book,” Rockland said in a UWire press release.
Doing its part, PAPD has protocols in place to hone in on potential “jumpers.”
Per PAPD capital investments announcements, a series of telephones are emplaced along the railings, providing direct links to suicide prevention counselors. Moreover, 9-foot-high fencing is being installed, replacing the former low-rise railings. Security cameras are being strung, the monitoring of which will be conducted by PAPD security personnel.
With the diligence, vigor, and crisis-intervention tactics of Officers Turano and Mulderigg, let us hope their (and PAPD’s members’) track record soars.