LEAP INTO ETERNITY
She was an attractive young woman.
The cops watched her as she held onto the thick cables that supported the roadbed of the massive bridge. The cold waters of the Narrows sparkled in the sun far below. She stood with her toes on the outer steel beam. She was dressed in casual clothing wearing what looked like hiking boots and stood facing them at the edge of eternity.
Police Officers Keith Claire and
Charles "Chuck" Billings of Emergency Service Truck Five on Staten Island (H.E.S.S.I.) were on routine patrol when they heard the radio call of a "jumper" on the Verrazano-Narrows
Bridge. Both of them were experienced Emergency Service cops who had handled many such assignments. They turned onto the Staten Island Expressway and raced to the toll plaza. The tolls were
collected only in one direction and the traffic from Brooklyn was backed up on that side of the plaza. Claire and Billings pulled over at the nearest tower of the bridge.
They were puzzled that no one in the passing vehicles seemed concerned. They initially thought that the call might be unfounded until Billings leaned over the wall of
the bridge and spotted her standing on a beam. They were the only cops on the scene as yet, so they called Central and let the responding units know the situation.
Claire immediately saw the determination in the eyes of the woman. He had a bad feeling about this one. As he approached her, she shouted for them to say away from
her. Something in her voice caused Claire to back up. Officer Billings was busy rigging the safety lines for Claire. He knew that Claire would have to go out onto the
beams to get to her. The initial contact with the distraught woman was critical. The two men felt a sense of relief when other units from HESSI arrived on the scene. They
kept their attention on the woman and tried to engage her in conversation. Where was her car? How did she get out on the bridge? The answers to those questions would have to wait.
Police Officers Bob Hakius and Mike LaMagna, Truck Five, HESSI, pulled up on the scene along with Sergeant Tom Sullivan and Police Officers Tony Ferrara and Phil
Pietrunti. The cops went into their drill. The teamwork and spirit of these cops was always something to see. Street cops on patrol in the City of New York are not easily
impressed. The work of the Emergency Service always gets their attention.
With safety lines secured, the teams of ESU cops strapped on their safety harness belts and joined Claire on the steel beams. They watched the reaction of the
woman as they slowly edged their way out onto the beams. She grew increasingly agitated as they tried to close the distance between them. The radio earphones on her head didn't help as they tried to
reason with her. They would later learn that the woman was furious over a personal relationship with a man. She had argued with the man in his car as they traveled over the bridge and in a fit of anger, she had
jumped out of the car. The man continued on, leaving her to her fate. Deeply troubled and abandoned, she decided to end her life. In despair, she climbed out onto the steel beams.
C l a ir e e d g e d o u t d ir e c tl
y on the same cross-section of steel where she stood. He desperately tried to hold her attention in conversation. Officer Hakius was standing to her right on the parallel
beam. LaMagna approached on her left side. They did succeed in talking with her for about twenty minutes. They hoped to calm her down or get someone up there that could.
Hakius knew they had very little time when she started to throw
away her personal belongings. First, she threw her sunglasses into the air. When she threw what looked like her wallet into the air, he felt that she had made her decision to end her
life. Suddenly, she turned her back and looked down at the water. The cops realized that she was going to leap into space. The cops moved in quickly and made a desperate grab for her. Claire had her by
the arm, but she twisted and broke away from his grasp and she dove feet first off the edge. The cops watched in horror as she fell over two hundred feet to the water. Claire
remembers reciting a prayer to himself as he watched her in free fall. He saw her body hit the waves and disappear. The NYPD Harbor Unit nearby sent a scuba team
into the water to recover what they thought would be a badly mangled corpse. To their surprise, they found the woman was still alive. She has suffered a broken leg and
pelvis, a dislocated jaw and internal injuries, but she would live. She was only one of six people to survive a similar leap from the Verrazano Bridge.
These cops who work on Staten Island are very familiar with bridges. There are three other
large bridges that link Staten Island with the State of New Jersey. . Staten Island, one of the five Boroughs that comprise the City of New York, has been the location for shocking crimes
and unusual incidents. This fact surprises many of those who have not kept up with the changing times. Staten Island has nearly 400,000 residents and its roads serve as major
arterial highways for commercial traffic through the Metropolitan Area.
Officer Claire comes from a tradition of rugged individualism. Each year, he goes back
to the wilderness and hunts for deer deep in the forests of the Adirondacks.
Officer Hakius was always ready to "walk the walk" up the cables the bridges that span the waters around Staten Island. He has been involved in four other "saves" on
the Verrazano Bridge and also incidents on the other bridges on Staten Island.
Officer Billings was well suited to Emergency Service work. I recall one gruesome accident in the world famous
Fresh Kills Sanitation Landfill. This enormous garbage dump processes all the trash for the entire City of New York. The refuse of millions of people is bought by truck and scow to this site where it is
spread over acres of land and covered with soil. The equipment used to haul and spread the mountains of garbage is huge. The trucks are almost two stories high. An unfortunate New York City Sanitation
Department worker had been crushed beneath the wheels of one of those behemoths.
I responded to the scene and was shocked at the condition of the man's body. He
was literally crushed like a pancake. Officer Billings was the Emergency Service cop assigned and after we isolated the area, he proceeded to scoop up the remains of the
unfortunate victim and placed them in a canvas body bag. It is difficult to preserve any semblance of dignity for a fellow human being whose body has been so horribly
destroyed. Yet, Officer Billings did just that. It is in moments like these that our reverence for life is manifest for all to see.
The Staten Island Advance is one of the last local newspapers to be published in the City of
New York. When I was a rookie cop, the New-York Herald Tribune, the World-Telegraph & Sun, the Journal-American, the Daily Mirror, and other newspapers were published in New
York. The New York Times, the Daily News, and the New York Post are three surviving publications. For NYPD cops who work on Staten Island, there are pros and cons to working
under the eyes of a local newspaper. Police officers receive public recognition for their good police work. They see their names and photos the next day on the front page of the Advance.
The editors of the Advance also award recognition for good police work and this is well appreciated by the police officers who work there. Community policing has always been the
hallmark of Staten Island because the officers assigned there also reside there. The peer pressure that working among your friends, relatives, and neighbors cannot be
underestimated. Photographers like Tony Carannante and Jim Romano worked with the Staten Island Advance for years. I saw them at so many incidents in the street, that I thought
that I turned them out with the platoon. They should receive recognition for their contributions to the people of Staten Island. Photographer Rob Sollett caught the action on
the Verazzano Bridge. He captured a moment in time that shows what it means to be a police officer in New York.
©Copyright l999 Edward D. Reuss
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