CHP talk suicidal man down from Benicia Bridge

There's a story behind the photograph. Contra Costa CHP shared a picture Thursday of an officer bending down to console a man who had contemplated suicide off the Benicia Bridge.

Friday, the two officers involved shared the experience with KTVU.

"He was outright sobbing, and it's heart-wrenching to see someone like that," said Ofc. Jason Joiner, a sixteen year CHP veteran.

The 41-year-old Vallejo man had walked to the bridge, intending to end his life, and was standing on the wall, holding on to the railing    when the officers first spotted him. 

"I drove up and saw a silhouette of a guy standing," recalled Ofc. Thomas Westropp-Bennett, who's been with CHP ten years.

The officers arrived at the same time- each glad to see the other and uncertain how it would end.

They were relieved to see the man was not on the water-side of the waist-high railing, at least not yet, so they approached carefully.

"If you rush in too quickly, and try to grab him, in half a second he could be over the side," explained Ofc. Westropp-Bennett, "and then  you lose your grip and he's gone. So you do want to try and be calm."

Still, they were mid-span, 140 feet up, and the weeping man wouldn't look at them or speak.

"He wasn't looking left or right, he was just straight out at the water, and actually looking down," recalled Joiner.

Slowly, they tried to connect: build trust, find common ground.

Finally, a few words, and the man admitted he had children.

That helped, since the officers are fathers too.

"You've got to realize you're not only doing this to yourself, you're doing this to your kids, and to your own family members," said Joiner somberly.

Ofc. Joiner knows firsthand how a suicidal situation goes from calm to crazy.  

Two years ago, he grabbed a despondent man on the Antioch Bridge, and a photo shows him gripping the man's wrist as he dangles high in the air.     

"We were able to get him back up and get him in," said Joiner, " but that was a very chaotic situation, versus this one."

Thursday, the man responded to patience and compassion. He stepped down from the railing on his own. And for an hour, the three men kept talking: about family and children, and life's difficulties.

By the end, even sharing some smiles discussing tattoos and baseball.  

"You start to see a smile, you start to see a glint in their eye, and you start to see hope, " said Ofc. Westropp-Bennett.

A turning point came when they informed the man there was help for him, and confided that they had both been in counseling at tough times in their own lives, and that therapy helped. 

"There's so many people who see us as officers only, and they don't realize we're human too, we have problems, we have issues," observed Ofc. Joiner.  

"Once you break through, it's usually a watershed moment, and the emotions come out and they start venting," elaborated Ofc. Westropp-Bennett.

"That's what people need, they need to vent, they need someone to listen to them, someone to hear their pain."

The three strangers were thrown together, and everyone left alive a day the officers won't forget.

"You'll think of that person whether it's half a second a day or thirty seconds, you'll wonder how they're doing," admitted Ofc. Joiner.

Once moment not captured by a camera: the goodbye.  

"When he was in the back of the ambulance, leaving to go get help, he wanted to shake both our hands, thank us, say goodbye to us, that's a good feeling," smiled Ofc. Westropp-Bennett.