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WAIT HEIGHTENED RESCUE DRAMA

An officer wanted to dive into the bay earlier, but his supervisors said a boat was on the way.

The Tampa police officers peered into the water below the Howard Frankland Bridge and saw a young woman clinging to a concrete piling.

Please help, she cried.

It was about 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Someone had seen the woman stop her car on the side of the bridge, get out and jump off. The passer-by called police.

Officer Ryan Jurjevich and other police arrived.

Raised among the lakes of rural Wisconsin, Jurjevich, 26, is a strong swimmer. Luckily, he had his flippers in the car.

The woman, who appeared to be in her early 20s, looked cold and helpless, he said.

Jurjevich wanted to dive in right then, but his supervisors told him to wait. They hoped a Coast Guard boat would arrive.

As time passed, the woman looked like she was slipping under the surface. The police thought they had only moments to save her.

Jurjevich jumped.

The water was so cold it stole his breath.

"She's telling me to please help, that she's sorry," Jurjevich said.

He grabbed the woman and snapped her into a life preserver. The officers above lowered a rope, and pulled the pair along the bridge toward a concrete access road that snakes below part of the bridge.

The officer and the woman bobbed along, the woman holding onto his waist. About halfway there, though, the woman lost consciousness, he said.

He wrapped his legs around her and paddled on his back, fearing that if he let go, she would drift away.

When they reached the road, the woman was taken to a hospital. Further information about her was not available.

Emergency crews put Jurjevich inside an ambulance, wrapping him in a wool blanket to raise his body temperature.

He was taken to Memorial Hospital of Tampa. It took more than an hour for his body temperature to return to normal levels because of the chilly water.

At a press conference Tuesday, two people stood off to the side, watching Jurjevich talk to television crews.

Jim, 56, and Peggy Lefeber, 54, are the officer's parents. They came down from Oshkosh, Wis., last weekend for a visit. They had been planning to meet him for dinner in South Tampa on Monday night.

Instead, they worried as they waited for a phone call. When they heard what happened, they worried even more.

"You know, it kind of makes your heart sink," Peggy Lefeber said.

When she saw him later that night, her fears were eased.

By Tuesday, they were all smiles.

"Well, I think it was pretty brave," Jim Lefeber said. "We're really proud."

From the safety of the access road, Jurjevich looked out toward the scene of the rescue.

"It makes you appreciate everything," he said.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or 813-226-3373.

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