WOONSOCKET — Tears streamed down the man's cheeks as he stood on the railing of the Hamlet Avenue Bridge, thinking about the end.
Patrolman Kevin Sanford saw the dog leash looped around the man's neck. The hasp was clipped on so that if he jumped the leash would cinch around the man's neck from his body weight. The other end of the leash was tied around the lower rung of the bridge railing.
Whatever's troubling you, Sanford gently reassured the man, it's not worth dying for. Sanford could tell the psychology wasn't working, because the man just kept staring into the Blackstone River rushing by some 75 feet below, a vacant expression on his face.
Then he jumped.
But not fast enough to prevent Sanford from reaching out and grabbing him by the wrist in what Police Chief Thomas Carey now calls “a lifesaving grip.”
That harrowing episode took place on Aug. 21, 2010, but it earned Sanford the American Legion's Medal of Heroism during a ceremony in East Providence last week.
Eight other Woonsocket patrol officers — Jason Berthelette, Justin Laroche, Daniel Lajoie, Joseph Brazil, James Dybala, James Cote, Michael Velino and Thomas Duncan — were also recognized by the American Legion Post 10 of Riverside for helping save Sanford and the 38-year-old man who attempted suicide. The other officers received special certificates of recognition.
When Carey received a nomination form for the American Legion's annual Law and Order Awards Ceremony, the chief immediately recalled Sanford's bravery on the bridge and put his name in for consideration.
“He really put himself at risk,” said Carey. “Kevin could have gone overboard too and fallen into the Blackstone River and gotten severely injured, if not killed. He's not thinking about his own safety here, he's just thinking about saving that other guy's life. I thought it was heroic.”
Indeed, Sanford almost did end up in the drink.
That lifesaving grip that Carey talked about was not actually the first time he grabbed the man by the wrist, though it might have slowed down the man's momentum and kept the dog leash from breaking altogether.
When Sanford first reached out for the man's wrist, his weight pulled the officer forward with such force that he slammed violently into the handrail and briefly lost his grip on the jumper.
But Sanford moved quickly toward the railing and saw the man clinging to the dog leash by just three fingers as he dangled precariously above the Blackstone River. Apparently, the part of the cable that was attached to the man's neck had snapped, but the other end was still secured to the railing.
Sanford reached out and grabbed the man by the wrist again, and this time he didn't let go. That was when the other officers rushed in to keep both Sanford and the would-be victim from falling into the river together.
Uninjured, the man was taken to Landmark Medical Center for an evaluation. He never did tell police why he was so despondent.
Though Sanford won the American Legion's highest honor for actions taken in 2010, it was the third year in a row city police officers have received awards from the group.
Sgt. Mike Villiard was previously honored with the Medal of Valor for saving the life of a man he found late one night, lying in the street as he bled to death from a stab wound.
Before that, Patrolman Michael Martufi won a certificate of merit for catching a group of burglars in the act.