Four public safety agencies this morning cooperated in literally talking a 17-year-old Palm Coast girl off the ledge on the I-95 overpass at Palm Coast Parkway. The incident shut down I-95 northbound and the parkway’s eastbound traffic in the 6 and 7 o’clock hours this morning before it was resolved without harm to anyone.
“The interagency cooperation is what helps us protect our citizens the best, and this was an example of that,” Interim palm Coast Fire Chief Kyle Berryhill said today, referring to the agencies that responded: the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, the Palm Coast Fire Department, Flagler County Fire Rescue, and the Flagler Beach Fire Department. The Florida Highway Patrol also responded. “And we always love a successful outcome.”
The incident began minutes after 6 a.m. when the girl’s father reported to the Sheriff’s Office that his daughter, a resident of the B Section, was threatening to hurt herself. “I can’t do this anymore,” he said the girl had told him before leaving the house wearing gray shorts and a tank-top. It was not the first time that the girl had spoken of desperation. Her father believed, was heading for the overpass to jump.
Deputies began searching the area, circling the public library near Belle Terre Parkway and crisscrossing several streets in the area until one of the sheriff’s units reported at 6:38 a.m. that the girl was on the overpass–grabbing on to the railing on the side of I-95, “slowly inching toward the highway,” according to the reporting deputy. Medical units and fire departments were immediately dispatched and the highway below shut down. A Palm Coast Fire Department ladder truck was positioned below. The sheriff’s Crisis Negotiations Team was on the bridge. When they found out that the girl preferred to deal with a woman, they brought along Laura Jenkins, a road patrol deputy on the force three years.
“Deputy Jenkins was negotiating with the juvenile, letting her know she’s there to help her, when the juvenile let go of the rail to jump,” a sheriff’s release states. “Deputy Jenkins immediately grabbed her hand before she could fall and secured her to the rail with handcuffs.”
An edited video the Sheriff’s Office released this afternoon shows the girl on the ledge, her back to the highway below (the girl’s face is intentionally blurred), screaming to the negotiators to get away from her and not touch her. The two negotiators speak to her calmly, apparently after Jenkins had managed to lock in the handcuff and before the ladder truck had arrived below. She kept crying: “Go away, please go away.”
The rescue team then successfully rescued the juvenile by using a fire engine ladder, with deputy Crista Rainey–a former Flagler Beach police officer–and a firefighter walking up on the ladder.
“I want you to listen. You’re tired, right? This is me, it’s me. You’re tired, you’re exhausted,” Rainey tells the girl, as the handcuffs are removed. The girl briefly screams as she is taken off the ledge and onto the ladder. The rescuers were still not in the clear. Rainey, the girl and the firefighter were still high up. It wasn’t as simple as escorting the girl down the ladder, since she wasn’t exactly cooperative.
“Tilt it down,” one of the rescuers said of the ladder, “so if she jumps, it’s a shorter distance to the ground than from up here.” The ladder then swivels away from the bridge and the girl is brought back down to earth. The girl was on the ladder truck at 7:26 and on the ground, safe, two minutes later. (Rainey is the versatile deputy who just three months ago had to deal with an armed suspect who’d attempted to pull his firearm during an arrest, after a traffic stop.) Strangely, and not quite in tune with the depicted reality, the video at that point switches to warm-and-fuzzy-sounding music. The rescuers’ skills aside, there is nothing warm and fuzzy about what compelled the girl to attempt to take her own life, or about the desert of mental health services to which she will be released after a maximum of 72 hours in the care of Halifax hospital’s psychiatric unit.
All traffic lanes were reopened at 7:50.
“This is an outstanding rescue by all agencies involved,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “The quick response and combined efforts of FCSO deputies, Crisis Negotiations, Communications Center, Fire Rescue, and the deputies holding the juvenile’s hand saved a life today. Their training in de-escalation techniques and being able to talk to someone who’s threatening to take their life is remarkable. I commend all the men and women who stepped up for this child’s life today. Someone’s daughter was saved on Father’s Day, and I hope she receives the help she needs.”
The girl was taken to AdventHealth hospital in Palm Coast and was processed to be Baker Acted. At the hospital she tried to ealk off a couple of times but was convinced to comply with procedures, according to dispatch notes.
Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies have built a remarkable record of de-escalation over the past dozen years, preventing numerous individuals, some of them suicidal, from either harming themselves or harming deputies, and avoiding any officer-involved death of either civilians or officers along the way. This year, the deputies have tallied at least three suicide preventions, including one in early May when they talked a man from shooting himself. The man had a gun to his head in a public place in the Hammock. Today’s rescue did not involve a gun, but averted what may have been an equally tragic end.
The following resources are available for individuals in crisis:
In Flagler: The Crisis Triage and Treatment Unit (CTTU) is a crisis assessment and referral service for Flagler County residents experiencing behavioral health crisis. It is located at 301 Justice Lane in the Brown & Brown Outpatient building at the Vince Carter Sanctuary in Bunnell. This program is limited to individuals escorted to the program by law enforcement between the hours of noon and midnight daily. Law enforcement is able to transport individuals to SMA to assess and determine the appropriate clinical disposition. When required and appropriate, SMA then transports the individual to a receiving facility in Volusia County.
In Daytona Beach: Stewart-Marchman Act Corporation Crisis Center
1220 Willis Avenue
Daytona Beach, FL 32114
Crisis Line: (800) 539 – 4228
Available 24 hours.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800/273-8255 (TALK), or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat, both available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255.
People 60 and older can call the Institute on Aging’s 24-hour, toll-free Friendship Line at 800-971-0016. IOA also makes ongoing outreach calls to lonely older adults.