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Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Deputy describes life-saving act

June 20, 2001

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— A deputy sheriff who grabbed a suicidal woman's shirt as she jumped from a bridge says he thinks he had "a little guardian angel" over his shoulder.

Sedgwick County Deputy Robert Burkhead wasn't able to keep the woman from falling 45 feet into a river, but he did direct the path of her fall. Another officer quickly jumped in and pulled her to safety.

It happened late Sunday afternoon when Burkhead got a report that a suspicious person had been seen on the Arkansas River bridge.

Burkhead, who had a sculptor from Peck with him as part of a citizen ride-along program, got to the bridge just after Maize Police Officer Doug Prier arrived.

A woman in her late 30s sat on a wide concrete railing at the center of the bridge. Her feet dangled over the water as she sat next to her car, parked on the northbound shoulder.

While Prier talked to dispatchers, the woman told Burkhead she was considering jumping.

Burkhead lured her away from the edge. The woman walked to the driver's side of her car, with Burkhead following, concerned she would try to drive away.

Instead, she made a beeline for the side of the bridge.

Burkhead lunged after her, grasping the back of her shirt as she threw herself over the low railing.

"I could tell our momentum was going to carry us over," he said. "But I didn't want her to fall."

Holding the woman's shirt with his right hand, Burkhead grabbed the concrete railing with his left hand as he toppled over the side.

But before the woman slipped from Burkhead's fingers, he managed to swing her away from the bridge supports and toward deeper water.

Meanwhile, Prier and the man who had been riding with Burkhead grabbed his arms and pulled him up.

As soon as Burkhead was safe, Prier sprinted down to the riverbank and dived into the water.

The woman was conscious, but deliberately floating face-down.

Despite almost 30 pounds of equipment weighing him down, Prier swam to her and was able to pull her to shore. She was taken to the hospital. and kept for psychiatric evaluation.

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