Deputy Clutches Suicidal Boy On Bridge Until Help Arrives

Draped over the top of a retention fence, an Orange County Sheriff's deputy holds the teen's limp body until two other Rancho Santa Margarita officers arrive to help pull the boy to safety 40 feet above the freeway.

ORANGE COUNTY, CA -- In a scene that might have been dreamed up for a Bruce Willis action movie, an Orange County, Calif., deputy saved a 17-year-old boy from jumping off a bridge in a suicide attempt Monday.

With the boy on the outside of a retention fence that runs along the Banderas Bridge over the California 241 toll road, Rancho Santa Margarita Deputy Tim Africano balanced himself over the top of the fence and grabbed the teen by the arm before he could jump.

The boy, who was perched on a ledge just inches wide, then went limp in an effort to break free of Africano's one-handed grasp.

From that point on, Africano held on for dear life—until two other deputies arrived in their police cruisers to assist. 

Finally, with deputies Dustin Fike and Mike Stout holding onto the boy from atop the fence—Stout grabbed an arm and Fike some clothing—Africano lifted the boy by the waistband to the top of the fence. At that point, they were about 8 feet above the bridge, which is about 40 feet above the highway.

The boy didn't make it easy, either. Deputies asked him to help climb the fence, but he refused, instead putting the entire onus of the rescue on the biceps of the officers.

The incident was over before Orange County Fire Authority Station 10 could shut down the freeway in case the teen or officers fell onto the highway, where the speed limit is 65 mph.

"I'm just glad I was there to help," Africano said. "I was just doing my job."

Africano may have shrugged off his effort, but his boss, Lt. Brian Schmutz, wouldn't -- and neither would a couple of witnesses.

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“Based on what I’ve heard from people passing by, this teenager would have jumped from the overpass if it hadn’t been for the quick actions of Deputy Africano and responding deputies," Schmutz said. "Their bravery and concern for this troubled young man saved his life and spared his family from tragedy and loss.”

According to a witness who described the event in a letter to Schmutz: "They quickly came to the young man's aid without second thoughts of their own safety. One Officer risked his own life as he crawled over the retention fence and firmly grasped the young man's clothing while the other two officers held on to the young man through the fence. ...  It was not an easy rescue. The young man was barely hanging on to the fence. His hands slipped several times."

The incident began about 30 minutes earlier when deputies were dispatched at 1:34 p.m. to a residence in Rancho Santa Margarita. The teen, who had a history of cutting himself and overdosing on medication, had told his mother he was going to kill himself by throwing himself in front of a car.

In an apparent effort to keep his mother off the trail, he contacted her by phone and said he was on the Oso Parkway Bridge, which is west of Antonio and spans the canyon there. Deputies were dispatched there, as well.

At 2:05 p.m., deputies received word the boy was on the Banderas Bridge on the outside of the fence.

Less than two minutes later, Africano—a motorcycle cop—was on the scene.

"The subject made statements that he was going to kill himself and began moving along the ledge, toward the middle of the overpass," Schmutz said.

Before the teen could get over the pavement and traffic lanes, Africano—balanced on top of the fence—grabbed him with one hand and held on until help could arrive. Within about three minutes, the boy was on the sidewalk instead of the ledge.

He was taken to Mission Hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Lawrence (Larry) McCook June 09, 2012 at 09:19 PM
It is great for our officers to get credit for doing a great job in RSM! Hopefully this boy will get the intensive and long term care that he obviously needs. Kudos to the Rancho Santa Margarita Sheriff's Station who are out there protecting us every day and do not get enough thanks for their fine service!
Sandy Castor June 17, 2012 at 02:34 PM
God Bless your sweet hearts gentlemen!!!! I'm sure he is grateful NOW, but at the time his mind was so confused and out of sorts.
mommy25girls July 06, 2012 at 07:18 AM
Maybe he will now that he is longer at Tesoro. My daughter was involved with this young boy trying to get her and him help. All we got was a scathing letter from Principal Burch about how it was a family matter. I didn't know that violence that occurred on his campus was a family matter. When he was confronted regarding the letter after this incident he screamed in the parking lot that "this boy wasn't his problem because it happened off campus." Good luck to all you Tesoro parents. You are going to need it.
Randall Page August 10, 2012 at 12:17 PM
To Martin Henderson, thank you for the well written article of Tim Africano and his colleagues. It was refreshing to read and gratifying to see such admiration for our finest.
Anonymous September 09, 2012 at 03:30 AM
I know this boy. I hope he's still okay... I met him in the hospital in January where he went after a suicide attempt. I hope he gets the help he needs.


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