Off-duty Petersburg police officer rescues man from Appomattox river

Updated: Jul. 19, 2017 at 12:09 PM EDT
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PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - An off-duty Petersburg police officer rescued a man in his sixties after he jumped into the Appomattox river on July 14.

Officer Christopher Ayers, who has been with the department for almost two years, was driving from Colonial Heights to Petersburg to start his shift around 1:40 p.m. when he spotted a wheelchair in the road on the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge.

"I saw a wheelchair that was empty in the roadway," Ayers said.

Curious, Officer Ayers looked over. He saw several people flocking to the edge of the bridge. He then caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a man leaping from the bridge.

"I parked my vehicle, got out and looked over the railing," Ayers said. "I saw a male party in the water. He was still moving. He appeared to be trying to swim."

Officer Ayers first called for backup. Then he walked down the bank towards the Appomattox River.

"I tried to talk to him and get him to come to me," Ayers said. "Those efforts failed, so I took my vest and gun belt off and everything out of my pockets and I got into the water and got him out of the water."

The man had pulled himself out of his wheelchair, thrown himself over the side of the railing and fallen about sixty feet into the river that day. Ayers questions what would have happened if he hadn't been driving over the bridge at that moment.

"Part of this job is not just about taking people to jail, it's about helping people in need, and at that point I felt like that was a person in need, and I was in the position to help that person," Ayers said.

The man who jumped, who police are not naming for his privacy, went to the hospital with injuries to his lower body. He is expected to be okay. Officer Ayers is just happy that he was there to help.

"I was in the right place at the right time to render aid and help him in a time of crisis," Ayers said.

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