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Portland woman, police officers combine efforts to save man poised to jump from freeway overpass

PORTLAND (The Oregonian) — Bonnie Holtgrew hadn't ridden her bike since last fall. The 49-year-old woman suffers from diabetes, and two months ago she had a surgery that amputated her toes and part of her left foot.

But Wednesday around 6 p.m., she was thirsty and out of cigarettes, so she hopped on her bike and headed to the store. On her way back to her home on Northeast 92nd Avenue off Glisan Street, she took a detour onto the I-205 overpass to avoid a closed sidewalk.

Suddenly, she saw something that made her stop.

A man was standing outside the bridge railing, his back turned toward Holtgrew. He was alternately grasping the railing behind him, then letting it go, all while looking down onto the loud highway, his lips moving.

Holtgrew approached the man and started talking to him, but he didn't seem to hear her. She reached out and touched his arm, a thousand thoughts rushing through her mind: "What if he jumps the moment I touch him?"

The man turned his face to her.

"Lady, leave," he said in a soft voice. "Leave me alone."

Holtgrew looked at him. A man in his 50s, she thought, 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-7, tanned, with short, blond hair that looked freshly cut. He was wearing a light-blue T-shirt with the picture of a band, gray jeans and tennis shoes. He looked sad and on a mission.

The man reminded Holtgrew of her husband.

"Come home with me," she said. "Talk to my husband. Nothing can be this bad."

People on the freeway below were honking their horns. The man didn't talk back. He just looked at her and shook his head a little. She kept begging and crying.

A police car stopped right behind them, and Officer Tyrone Willard stepped out. The 29-year-old had just cleared from another call. He felt urgency in the dispatcher's voice, so he rushed over. A few blocks before reaching the overpass, he turned off his siren so it wouldn't stress the man out. As Willard stepped out of the car, he knew backup was coming.

"How are you doing, sir?" the officer asked. "What's your name? What's going on?"

The man turned around and looked over his left shoulder. It was the kind of look Willard didn't see every day – depressed, sad and determined.

The man didn't answer. He looked away, leaned forward above the highway and let go of the railing.

In that moment, Willard jumped, grabbed the man's left forearm with both hands, dropped his body weight to the ground and pushed against the railing.

It was a leap of instinct, but it felt safe.

"It felt good," Willard said. Not for a moment did he feel something might happen to prevent him from getting home that night to his four children and beautiful wife.

Holtgrew also grabbed onto the man. Officer William Johnson, who had arrived as backup, ran to help.

The two officers pulled the man over the railing, to the sidewalk, and handcuffed him. People had stopped on Glisan and were clapping and cheering – a type of noise Willard wasn't used to hear on his job.

"As police officers, we don't get a lot of that," Willard said.

As he started to talk, the man told the officers he was hearing voices that convinced him there was an arrest warrant in his name and he was about to spend the rest of his life in jail. Willard checked his name and found him clear.

"I had to convince him, 'You're not going to jail. You're going to the hospital to get help,'" Willard said.

The man seemed to gradually realize what had happened. About 15 minutes later, he broke down and cried. At the hospital, he thanked Willard for saving his life.

"I felt very honored and blessed," Willard said, "to be at that place at that time."

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