High above the Appomattox River, a veteran law enforcement officer saved a Ft. Lee soldier from jumping off the Interstate 295 Bridge, as drivers crossed at the start of rush hour.
Deputy Rodney Womack was on radar patrol near the Bridge last Wednesday around 5:00 p.m. A woman pulled over, and alerted him to what she thought was a suspicious scene unfolding.
"She saw a man in full uniform, walking to the middle of the Bridge," Womack said in an interview Thursday. "She believed it was something unusual, and I stopped what I was doing to see for myself what was happening."
Womack has a fear of heights – a fear that returned when he demonstrated what took place on the Bridge. More than 100 feet above the Appomattox River, he leaned on the edge of a concrete barrier, showing how he found the Ft. Lee soldier.
"I saw him gazing out to the River, then crouch down, put his hand on his head and slowly shake it, like he had a lot on his mind," Womack said. "He didn't need a law enforcement officer. He needed a public servant with compassion."
Instead of stopping traffic and taking out his handcuffs, Womack started a conversation. The deputy told the soldier he was not alone.
"I tried to relate to him that law enforcement is no different than military service," Womack said. "There are days that we see so many things and question why we do [our jobs], just as he does."
Womack once served with an infantry unit in Honolulu, and said he understands the stress of military life. After a 20 minute conversation, the soldier walked away from the edge, and into the safety of a Hopewell squad car.
"There was no one thing that convinced him not to jump." Womack said. "When he was on the Bridge alone, whether to jump or not was all he was thinking about. But when someone else was up there engaging him in conversation, that took his mind off jumping, and gave him reassurance."
Womack credits his fellow deputies with contacting military officials and keeping traffic away from the edge of the Bridge. The soldier's family also assisted in the effort, providing law enforcement with information from the Hopewell side of the Bridge.
The soldier has now returned to Ft. Lee, and Womack is glad he may have changed someone's life.
"I'm glad I could have given him a second chance. Not everything in law enforcement is always fun, but when we can do something like this, it makes it worthwhile."
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