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Top Stories of 2012: No. 1—Heroes On the Bridge

The city's bridges have attracted those who wish to harm themselves, but local deputies turned in heroic efforts to save four lives and families.

He hung jack-knifed from a bridge with a life in his hand.

That was Deputy Tim Africano of the Orange County Sheriff's Department in June on the Banderas Bridge. In one hand, clutching a limp-bodied 16-year-old who hoped to fall 40 feet to the ground below, Africano made the save of his life while dangling over the retention fence.

It was the definitive moment for local law enforcement's work in Rancho Santa Margarita last year. On four separate occasions, deputies grabbed, lifted, tackled and coaxed people from a city bridge, saving lives and families in the process.

That combined heroism is the top story of 2012 in Rancho Santa Margarita.

Check back with Patch for the 2012 "Year In Review" Video

View the Top Stories of 2012:

  • No. 1: Heroes on the Bridge
  • No. 2: RSM's First Officer Involved Shooting
  • No. 3: The Election
  • No. 4: Forsberg Guilty of Murder
  • No. 5: Big (And Small) Business Arrives
  • No. 6: Beau Breaks Through
  • No. 7: Voter's Bill of Rights
  • No. 8: Football's Follies
  • No. 9: Change at the Top
  • No. 10: Sex and Children

Their oath is "to protect and to serve," and perhaps never was that more evident in this city than in 2012. The bridges, particularly the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge, have long been a concern, used by the forlorn to escape life—to the dismay of City leaders.

So to have four saves of people on the edge is a pretty good year. Given the chance, deputies responded heroically.

They never got a chance to save Michele McKay, a Lake Forest woman who apparently leaped into the darkness, alone, in September. And just outside the city, Stephen Beckman died off the Oso Parkway Bridge—jumping in front of his mother—after surviving the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge a year earlier.

But when local deputies got a chance to perform, they did.

Valiantly.

On March 30, at 11:52 p.m., Maria Bowman and Richard Oates responded to a call that a 22-year-old man was standing on the railing of the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge. Depressed over family matters, the man indicated he was considering a leap to his death. Under the calm influence of Bowman and Oates, the man climbed off the railing.

On June 4 at about 2 p.m., motorcycle officer Tim Africano was the first responder to a teen who was on the outside of the safety fence that spans the Banderas Bridge above the 241 toll road. Africano managed to climb the fence as the boy inched his way toward the center of the span. He grabbed the teen by the arm before he could jump, but the youngster went limp in an effort to break free of Africano's one-handed grip. Africano held on until deputies Mike Stout and Dustin Fike arrived moments later; all three deputies lifted the limp boy over the top of the fence, about 50 feet above the roadway. The whole incident took less than three minutes. "This," Africano said, "is not something I want to have to do again." On Wednesday, he was recognized as the city's Deputy of the Year.

On August 13, a foot pursuit of a 22-year-old man who told his father he was going to jump off a bridge led deputies to the ledge of the Antonio Parkway Bridge near Tijeras Creek and Cañada Vista Park. With the man poised with one foot on the ledge and one hand on the rail and apparently ready to launch—but his attention distracted by Stout—Deputy Felipe Martinez tackled the man and pulled him back onto the sidewalk. There were four officers involved in this save: Martinez, Stout (for the second time in 10 weeks), Dung Truong and Sgt. Mike Pixomatis. The latter three were on the same side of the jumper and Martinez—a former high school wrestler—on the other as the 10:30 a.m. event unfolded in front of passerby. "When the subject started arguing with Deputy Stout," Martinez said, "I saw my opportunity."

On December 16, a 58-year-old woman contemplating suicide was coaxed from the edge of the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge by Deputy Bart Epley, who arrived fewer than two minutes after a 9-1-1 call. The woman was not responding to her family's pleas, but walked to Epley during the 7 p.m. drama.

Such heroic work would have been notable had it occurred only once, but to occur four times in a nine-month span?

"It’s a position that requires you to be a marriage counselor, a crisis counselor, a medical aid responder, a mentor and a guardian of the community all in one," said Lt. Brian Schmutz, chief of police services in Rancho Santa Margarita. "Going into these incidents with little or no background on the person you’re talking to requires strong communication skills and a lot of patience and empathy. ... (and) showcases what great men and women we have working in the city of Rancho Santa Margarita."

Glenn Acosta February 15, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Our city is fortunate to have such a superb police department. Thank you to Lt. Brian Schmutz, Deputy Tim Africano, and all the police officers for keeping our city safe, and going above and beyond the call of duty.
Michael Vaughn February 15, 2013 at 06:03 PM
Very well said, Glenn - I'll second that. The business landscape in our community has greatly improved over the last year. For the top story of 2012, one having the greatest impact on RSM, I'd suggest Story No. 5 - Big (and Small) Business Arrives, with the observation of how well our elected leaders (Story No. 3), our City Manager and staff (Story No. 9), and the good work of our RSM Chamber of Commerce support our local business community (Story No. 7 notwithstanding).
April Josephson February 16, 2013 at 10:43 PM
Well said, Glenn and Michael. I couldn't agree more. I appreciate the efforts of the great staff in our sheriff's department, and the impact on RSM that having a good business environment, with strong city leaders that are overwhelmingly supported by the rest of the community has on our city.

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