Training pays off – officers talk man down from 'Suicide Bridge'

Training pays off – officers talk man down from 'Suicide Bridge' »Play Video
Officers Casey Hettman (left) and Brad Yacots.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The nine-foot high fence temporarily installed on the Vista Bridge to prevent people from jumping to their death didn't stop one man Monday night from climbing over it and onto the ledge.

Officers Casey Hettman and Brad Yacots responded to the bridge in Southwest Portland that has earned the nickname "Suicide Bridge" because so many people have taken their lives there.

Hettman and Yacots, as well as other officers, go through several training sessions a year that cover scenarios just like the one they went through Monday. And in this case, that practice paid off. Officers Hettman and Yacots were able to negotiate with the man and get him down safely.

"This call came in. It sounded pretty urgent, and we responded from the Old Town area and were there probably within a couple minutes," said Hettman.

The 36-year-old man, an Army veteran, had made it around the new barrier.

Yacots said the man was in the middle of the bridge "over the new safety barriers, on the concrete part, and multiple officers were working to shut down traffic, the MAX lines. So it was a real team effort."

The officers immediately jumped into action, especially because the man changed his position.

"(He) positioned himself to the back of the pole," said Hettman. "So we really didn't have much eye contact with him and whatnot. It was a very unsteady and precarious position. Very unsettling."

Just like they've been trained, they worked as a team – one talking, the other feeding information that might get the man to come down.

Yacots said it was Hettman's calm voice and mild manners that helped to talk the man down. But Hettman said he's not sure what finally changed the man's mind.

"I can't put my finger on any one thing. I think in a lot of these situations, these people are very despondent. They feel like it's hopeless, and there's no future for them," Hettman said. "It's a matter of finding one thing in their life that they have to live for and use that and capitalize on that."

In the end, the man climbed back over the barrier, and they got him to a local hospital.

The two officers can add the success to five others they've had this year. As a team, they've talked six people down from bridges across Portland.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation says the current barrier that's in place on the bridge is a temporary solution.

Commissioner Steve Novick and other leaders hope to eventually come up with a design that will be more in line with the architecture of the bridge.

Available resources

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts or needs help, police say the following options are available:

  • The Multnomah County Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at (503) 988-4888.
  • Lines for Life is available 24 hours a day at (503) 972-3456.
  • Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare has an urgent walk-in clinic open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 7 days a week. Payment is not necessary. Call (503) 963-2575.