Woman talked off bridge

Published 10:55 am Monday, May 7, 2007

NATCHEZ — A Natchez woman sat on a steel beam below the Mississippi River bridge for approximately two hours Sunday morning before rescuers and her boyfriend coaxed her to safety.

The 20-year-old woman offered only short replies to authorities on the scene for more than an hour and refused to be helped or let others come down to where she sat, Vidalia Police Department Sgt. Ronnie Wedgeworth said.

But her boyfriend — who drove in from Baton Rouge — convinced her to let him pull her up within 15 minutes of his arrival.

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“With a little help from all of us, he reached over,” Wedgeworth said. “We held him by his hand and feet. She wouldn’t come up for anybody else.”

The woman was distraught and exhausted, Wedgeworth said, and was transported to Natchez Regional Medical Center by ambulance.

Her parents and personal physician were on the bridge talking to her throughout the ordeal.

VPD received a 911 call at 8:09 a.m. saying someone was sitting under the eastbound side of the bridge. Wedgeworth, officer Terrence Williams and Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Todd Ainsworth arrived to find the woman’s car parked on the shoulder with its flashers on.

“Her feet were hanging off,” Wedgeworth said. “It’s pretty tight. She was right on the edge. All she would have had to do was go forward and she would have fell.”

The woman was wearing pajamas.

VPD called for assistance and the Natchez Police Department, Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Natchez Fire Department, Vidalia Fire Department and Concordia Fire District arrived.

ACSO deputies manned a search and rescue boat in the water below and Vidalia Dock and Storage launched a tugboat.

Firefighters were suited in ropes and harnesses and prepared to climb down to the woman when she was pulled up.

“You always expect the worst, but you are glad for the best,” Wedgeworth said. “Anything can happen. That’s a 50-50 deal that can go either way.”

Wedgeworth said the woman’s parents told him she had suffered from a variety of serious health concerns for some time, lived with a lot of pain and was likely depressed.

As a first responder Wedgeworth said his role was simply to get the woman talking.

“You just try to talk and find out what’s wrong and what we can do to help,” he said. “We try to convince them that it’s just not that bad, that there’s a solution, let us come talk to you.”

Another local woman jumped from the bridge in 2003 and survived. Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said similar incidents occur every few years.

“They usually end well,” he said. “I remember very few that actually jump.”

Local officers aren’t required to have specific training for suicide attempts, but are trained to deal with trauma, Mullins said.

“Trauma is a daily occurrence for a patrol officer,” he said. “It may not be the same situation, but similar.”

Traffic on the bridge was reduced to one lane for much of the morning. Both lanes closed for approximately 20 minutes.