EVERETT — Bright white shoes.
That’s all that caught Yaroslav Holodkov’s attention as he drove across the Snohomish River Bridge in north Everett the evening of Aug. 11. Before the Washington State Patrol trooper could hit the brakes, he’d overshot the midpoint of the bridge, where a man stood on an inner guardrail in white shoes and shin-high white socks.
Holodkov only happened to be there, a few hours into his Friday night shift. Traffic was bad on the freeway. He’d taken a back way north on Highway 529. Holodkov had never seen a pedestrian on the bridge. He flipped a U-turn.
“God,” he recalled thinking. “I hope he doesn’t jump.”
The man, in his 30s, wore dark shorts and a dark T-shirt. He still stood on the ledge when the cruiser came to a stop. A dash cam flashed the time, 7:36:34 p.m, as Holodkov flicked on the light bar and slowly took strides toward the man.
“Hey, man, don’t do it,” said Holodkov, 30, in an accent that has followed him from his childhood in Russia. “Come talk to me. Don’t jump, come talk to me. Can you get off the ledge for me? Come on, don’t do it. Don’t do it.”
Over and over Holodkov asked the man to talk with him. He hoped to distract him, to get him to talk about anything else. Family. Sports. The weather.
The man gave little response. Eventually he told Holodkov he had a bad day.
“I mean, if I was having a bad day, I’d want someone to reach out and talk to me, listen to me,” said Holodkov, in an interview with The Daily Herald. “A lot of times, that’s probably what you need. And that’s what I was trying to do, just trying to reach out to him.”
On the video, the man stared back at the trooper, a look that was a mix of distress and emptiness, Holodkov said. The trooper stepped closer, trying not to make sudden moves, and trying not to startle him. He didn’t know what to expect. The river was about 40 feet below, close enough that a fall might not be deadly. But if the man couldn’t swim, or if the current was strong, or if he hit the water in a bad way — it might be.
The man crouched on the guard rail. He no longer was staring over the edge. Things seemed to be moving in the right direction. The trooper was an arm’s length away.
“What’s going on with you?” Holodkov asked at 7:37:50 p.m. Another nine seconds went by in silence.
Then the man leaped toward the water, head-first. Holodkov grabbed at his shirt.
Often a police officer must be a kind of Swiss Army knife: first-responder, crisis negotiator, counselor. Sometimes, in a single 911 call, they’re all of the above.
In his six years patrolling state highways, Holodkov has encountered people about to jump from overpasses. He considers it part of the job, not heroism, to try to save their lives.
Last year, like many law enforcement officers in Washington state, Holodkov took a crisis intervention class where he learned how to talk with people in distress.
“But everybody’s different,” he said. “You can’t really train for every single scenario out there. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t really prepared. I wasn’t taught: ‘Hey, this is kind of what you should do.’ It just kind of happened naturally. I happened to be there. When he jumped, I guess it was pure reaction to grab him.”
The man’s shirt ripped when Holodkov yanked it in midair at 7:38:00 p.m. Both men are tall, about the same build. Holodkov pulled just hard enough to bring the man back to a skinny walkway, between two guardrails. The man went limp. Holodkov wrapped his arms behind his back and put him in handcuffs.
“It’s really not worth it, buddy,” the trooper told him. “It’s really not worth it.”
Since then Holodkov has watched the video a few times. The encounter is less than two minutes long. It feels like forever, he said. The man was taken to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation. From there, medical privacy laws make it difficult to know what happened. Holodkov doesn’t know. He’s hopeful the man got the help he needed.
“We all have bad days,” Holodkov said. “I wish that people would actually reach out to other people: friends, family, co-workers. Seek help before you decide to do something. Plenty of people are out there, willing to help. You’ve just got to reach out.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; email@example.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.