‘She’s going to jump’

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer August 28, 2013 12:15 am

Life saver Jennye Moore returns to the scene on the Thomas Creek Bridge Tuesday. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
Life saver Jennye Moore returns to the scene on the Thomas Creek Bridge Tuesday. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
Jennye Moore and Joyce Kowalewski were driving home from Gold Beach Saturday afternoon when they spotted a woman in the center of Thomas Creek Bridge.

Moore didn’t think much of it; she’d lived for 11 years on a mountainside overlooking the bridge and had seen people do just about everything: take photos of the panoramic view, conduct repair work, toss trash — her best friend committed suicide there, too.

“I know that bridge,” she said. “I’ve climbed the scaffolding down this bridge. I’ve hung ropes down the (canyon) sides of that bridge. We used to bring cookies to the workers painting it. I’ve seen wrecks there. People would come to my house to call 911 before cell phones.”

But she wasn’t expecting to see what she saw next in her rearview mirror.

The woman — Moore never got her name — threw her leg over the rail.

“You could tell something was different; it wasn’t like the usual person taking in this scenic view. She was looking down,” Moore said. “I looked at Joyce and said, ‘She’s going to jump.’”

She immediately turned the car around and parked and took off running toward the woman.

“I didn’t see her,” she said. “I thought she’d jumped.”

Thomas Creek Bridge has seen its share of suicides over the years since it was built in 1961. The most recent was in 2011, when a 69-year-old Brookings man shot himself and fell to the creek below. Before that, in 2002, it was a 72-year-old Brookings man who jumped.

But the woman was there, crouched on a narrow ledge on the other side of the railing, an arm and leg wrapped around the support beams of the rail, the creek babbling 345 feet below.

Any connection

Moore, a landscaper by trade, said she knew she had to make some kind of connection with the woman.

“I wanted to look at her,” she said. “I wanted to listen. I wanted to look in her eyes. I just wanted to connect, figure out what was bothering her.”

Moore said the woman told her she was angry it was low tide, and that she’d probably have the “bad luck” to survive the drop from the highest bridge in Oregon. Then the woman looked up, Moore said, and commented, “God, the view is just beautiful from here.”

Moore had her chance, and she took it.

She agreed with the woman, and told her she needed to get on the other side of the rail so they could enjoy the view together.

The woman declined, saying her life wasn’t worth living.

“Everyone goes through bad times to get to the good times,” Moore told her. “It’s not worth it. Let’s talk about it on this side.”

The woman said Moore didn’t understand. Moore said she did. The woman asked if Moore would hold her. And they linked forearms.

Traffic was stopped on both sides of the bridge. Kowalewski, waiting at the south end of the bridge,  said the scene was quiet, surreal.

The woman told Moore she had a dog, and hadn’t wanted the dog to jump after her — another connection made for Moore.

“I said, ‘You do have a purpose in life: You have your dog,’” she said. “‘You need to take care of your dog.’”

At that point, a man interjected, saying he knew the woman. She denied it.

Moore responded, “But I know you. I’ve seen you around town. It would be really sad not to see you around town. My heart would break knowing you’d jumped off the bridge. A lot of people would miss you.’ It was the only thing I could think of.”

The woman said, “Really?”

She then spoke of being lost in the woods and being raped two days prior by a man she believed had come to rescue her. She said she was afraid of going to jail.

And then they heard sirens; no sheriff’s officers were available, so a Brookings Police officer was responding to the call.

But the woman was still on the other side of the railing. And Moore thought the police could trigger her making the jump.

The rescue

Moore told the woman that if she were on the pedestrian side of the railing, police couldn’t arrest her because the woman would be with Moore.

“She reached out and grabbed hold of my neck, I grabbed her waist and pulled. Two men grabbed the sides of her pants and pulled her over.”

The Brookings police officer, who wasn’t witness to the rescue, stopped, opened the door to his cruiser and told the woman to get in because she was blocking traffic. That was the last Moore saw of her; the woman was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation, said Brookings Police Lt. Donny Dotson.

Moore and bystanders stood on the bridge, she said. The whole ordeal, she guesses, took five to 10 minutes.

“The people on the bridge, we all just gave each other hugs.”

Moore found the woman’s dog in a car with a large bag of dog food; she notified authorities.

And then she and Kowalewski headed home.

“I called my family, my brothers and my uncle,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone in Brookings. I wanted to tell them about it; I needed family.”

In retrospect, she said, she never feared for her own life, never thought she could be pulled over the railing as the woman fell to her death.

“I was so focused on her, I didn’t even realize what was going on around me,” Moore said. “I was just trying so hard to connect to her. I remember when we stopped, thinking, ‘Someone’s got to step up; someone’s got to step in. I’m just going to do this.’ I just felt I needed to do this. I finally got to help someone not jump off the bridge.”

She never realized until Tuesday afternoon when she revisited the site how narrow the lip is on the other side of the bridge.

“There’s nothing there,” she said of the lip. It is a little over an inch wide.

Dotson said, “While we don’t encourage people to put themselves in jeopardy, what she did was brave and selfless She should be commended for her fast thinking. Not everybody can do that.”

“It’s nice to see that happen,” said Sheriff John Bishop. “She helped prevent a tragedy.”

Moore, like many others, denies she’s a hero.

“I’m not a hero,” she said. “I was worried about the lady’s problems. I had to do something. Too many people have jumped off that bridge. No more. Not on my watch.”