It always makes me a little sad when a young reporter, inspired by a person about whom he or she is writing, wants to interject some editorial enthusiasm into the story, and I’ve got to discourage it.
The problem, I say, is that sometimes you’re wrong.
And that point was certainly driven home in recent months, when not one but two people, former school board member and police officer Carlos Martinez and business owner Oscar Garcia, both of whom I knew and liked, were accused of appalling crimes; Martinez of molesting a young student and Garcia of murdering his wife.
And once I wrote a little feature story about how Monroe Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl’s job was surprisingly safe.
Being wrong can be horrible.
But the other risk is that you become so cynical and self-protective that you never allow yourself to get inspired anymore. I don’t want that either, for myself or for any of our young reporters.
So while I know there’s a risk inherent in it, I’m going to write a bit about a police officer who I found inspiring a couple weeks ago.
Sgt. Rick Dunn has been on the force longer than I’ve been working in Monroe, but I’ve never really had a chance to sit down with him much.
But when I saw a story in another paper about how he had risked his life to save that of a suicidal man, I asked if I could meet with him.
He was on vacation and it took a couple weeks, but I finally got to hear his story a little more than a week ago.
Dunn had been in his car near the hospital the afternoon of June 24 when a general call went out about a suicidal man. The man’s roommate didn’t have much to go on; she was worried because he had been very despondent and she hadn’t seen him all day.
But she said she was afraid he might be on the train tracks. He’d mentioned that as a way out before.
Dunn called her up and learned that the man would likely be near the hospital, as he went there for rehab on an injured foot.
“I was on Kelsey and I was just crossing the railroad as it happened, and I saw something that was out of place,” he said.
He told dispatch that he thought he saw the man and drove down U.S. 2 to get a little closer. Sure enough, there was the man, sitting on a tie next to the tracks. He was a large guy, 6’1″ and about 360 pounds, outweighing Dunn by more than 100 pounds.
Dunn jumped out of his car and walked toward the man, who got up and stood on the southernmost set of tracks.
Dunn asked the guy to talk to him, but the fellow kept saying over and over that he was “done.”
“I’m thinking that the other two officers are coming and I got all the time in the world, and I said, “You know what, I know whatever it is, it’s probably bad, but I want to help you,’” Dunn recollected. “But he kept saying, ‘ No, I’m done, I’m done, I’m done.’ And then I hear the crossing arm.”
A train was coming up from behind Dunn, and the man moved over to the other track to get in front of it.
“When I saw the train, I didn’t really have a plan,” said Dunn. “I went to grab him and manhandled him to get him off the track, and he spins out of it right away, so I go back to get an arm bar on him to escort him off because I don’t want to tackle him on the tracks or we’d both be in trouble. But he’s really sweaty, and the next time I look up, the train is 40 yards away.”
So Dunn shoved the man as hard as he could.
“It wasn’t anything pretty or tactical,” Dunn said. He and the man went sprawling down the bank of gravel. The train was rolling past them before they stopped falling, Dunn said.
By then, two other officers had arrived, but they couldn’t see Dunn, and they were asking motorists where he was.
Once they, quite relieved, spotted Dunn and his subject alive, they walked the man right over to the hospital and got him some help.
“He was despondent, a nervous wreck, a mess, and there was a county mental health person there who evaluated him,” said Dunn. “I’ve been on a lot of suicide attempts, but he was the most determined I think I’ve seen.”
Dunn’s story was impressive enough. But it was the way he told it that was most moving to me. He was hesitant at times, and pensive. He said he was mad at himself later for not thinking of his family before taking such a serious risk.
And he obviously worried about the man he saved, and the man’s friends, too.
The roommate who called the police was badly shaken, he said. Six weeks earlier another of her loved ones had committed suicide.
He followed up to find out how the guy was doing, and said that it seemed the guy had been dealing with severe depression, a recent injury, a lost job and other hardships.
“Things were compounding for him,” Dunn said. But he seemed to be doing a bit better when Dunn checked in.
Then Dunn talked about something else he noticed. The roommate wasn’t the only one to call for help. It turned out that someone driving by had seen the man on the tracks and called the police, alarmed. And someone else had seen one of the man’s Facebook posts that seemed suicidal, and the friend also called 911.
“This guy thought no one cared,” said Dunn. It was clear that Dunn, too, was among the number of those who cared.
If being a reporter can make a person jaded, I can only imagine what being a cop could do to a person’s willingness to consider the plights of others. But Dunn struck me as a very compassionate guy.
“I’ve always had respect for people who struggle with mental health issues,” he said. “I know people personally that cycle through stuff and have struggles, and I know there’s a terrible stigma attached to it, and I know there are like 57 million people that walk around and about 60 percent of them never get even one doctor visit or treatment,” he said. “It’s terrible. We wouldn’t sit by and watch cancer patients not get treatment because of the stigma attached.”
We then talked about a few other cases and recent occurrences, and he continued to provide thoughtful insights on things he’d seen.
I couldn’t help but leave the building rather inspired by the officer’s compassion and courage. So even though I warn young writers not to do this sort of thing, I’m going to just say that I believe Rick Dunn is a good cop, and that we are lucky to have him in Monroe.