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.