Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Timely talk on Skyway averts suicide attempt

ST. PETERSBURG — Fire-Rescue Lt. Brad Dykens has lost count of the times he's arrived too late when someone wants to die.

The paramedic and crisis counselor has pulled onto the Sunshine Skyway bridge before, only to learn that a person already has plunged to the water 197 feet below.

But on Friday — the day after Christmas — he left work feeling ecstatic. He and Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Jorge Santamaria had talked a 55-year-old man down from the Skyway, which is one of the most used bridges for suicide in the nation.

"Sometimes it's too late," Dykens said. "This time I'm happy to say we were there on time."

• • •

About 3:50 p.m. Friday, authorities received reports that a man had parked his white Grand Marquis on the bridge. Callers said he was leaning over the railing. He appeared to be praying.

In his eight years in counseling, Dykens said, he has helped probably a half-dozen suicidal people. But only once before had he saved a Skyway jumper, though that rescue had more to do with quick reflexes than persuasive talk. The man actually jumped, but Dykens and others grabbed his hair, arm and belt and flopped him back to safety.

"It wasn't pretty, but it was effective," said Dykens, a 24-year Fire Rescue veteran. "There's nothing more disconcerting than looking past his feet and seeing the abyss below. It's a long way down."

• • •

At first, the would-be jumper on Friday said he was praying for another man who plummeted from the bridge Christmas Eve. Then he admitted he was despondent, especially about Christmas. When Dykens asked about his holiday, the man answered with a stream of expletives. Dykens tried to listen.

He never found out where the man was from or why he was so upset. Counselors know it's not wise to ask for details; it will only make the person feel worse.

Dykens typically uses a familiar line with people considering suicide: "You're choosing a permanent solution for a temporary problem."

But the man on Friday stepped away from the side before Dykens even could use the line. He didn't want to jump.

He said the man gave a half-hearted thank you as he agreed to go with a trooper to the hospital for mental evaluation under Florida's Baker Act.

Dykens counts it as a victory, a nice change in what's been a tragic December for the Skyway, with three people jumping to their deaths in the past three weeks.

Dykens knows the holidays are hard for many people. He encourages people to reach out to friends or acquaintances who seem down. A small compliment or an inquiry into how they're doing can make a difference, he said. "I truly felt like I saved a life today," Dykens said. "That's more than any money can pay me doing this job."

Timely talk on Skyway averts suicide attempt 12/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 29, 2008 11:37am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Video: Heroic Hooters manager helps two sheriff's deputies subdue unruly customer

    Crime

    BRANDON — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office praised a heroic Hooters Restaurant manager Wednesday for coming to the aid of two deputies struggling to subdue an unruly customer.

    It took two deputies and a Hooter's manager to get control of Ashton B. Toney after he threatened to kill an employee who refused to serve him alcohol at a Hooter's in Brandon, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
[Booking photo from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  2. Editorial: Turn the heat up on AC problem in Hillsborough schools

    Editorials

    Hillsborough County School District students do not want to hear that their buildings are decrepit. They do not want to hear that Florida's legislators are complicit. All they want to hear is the sweet sound of a classroom air conditioner kicking in at full power. Anything less creates uncomfortably hot classrooms and …

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins and the current Hillsborough County School Board did not create this air conditioning mess, but they own it now.
  3. Man in bunny mask part of trio that breaks into Odessa McDonald's to haul away ATM

    Crime

    ODESSA — A man in a bunny mask and two also-masked accomplices broke into a McDonald's early Wednesday, hoisted an automatic teller machine into a stolen minivan, then dumped the ATM and the van into a pond, deputies say.

    Three masked men, including one in a bunny mask, broke into an Odessa McDonald's early Wednesday and stole the ATM.
 [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    USF

    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  5. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, is proposing an end to public financing of campaigns. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]