Two civilians and Officer Gary Short were honored with Pride of Town awards at the Ulster Town Board meeting on Sept. 7 for successfully stopping a man from taking his own life at the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge on June 29 around 8:40 p.m.
Sean Nestler of Milan and Eric Letterio of Hyde Park stopped their vehicles when they saw a man sitting on the railing of the bridge over the Hudson River. When the man told them he was going to jump they both approached him and engaged the man in conversation while Nestler held on to the man’s shirt and belt.
“In everyday life we come upon incidences where we’re presented opportunity to step forward to go above and beyond what is normally expected of us in society,” Ulster Town Supervisor James E. Quigley III read from the summary of the event submitted by Ulster Town Police Sergeant James Sayfarth at the meeting.
Nestler and Letterio were there for about four minutes before police arrived at which point Officer Short began to address the man. About 15 minutes later, the man stepped down from the railing.
Although Quigley said the award is “merely a piece of paper presented in a nice frame” it is meant to recognize those that have done something special by the community and in front of the community.
Police Chief Kyle Berardi was glad to see them recognized and commended the men for a job well done.
“All three of them definitely made a difference that day,” he said. “For the two citizens, I honor them for stopping. Not many wanted to get involved in that aspect of it. They took the time out of their day to save a life and Officer Short’s actions just followed suit with what they did and not everyone can make that kind of dialogue with everybody.”
McKenzie McNeil, president of the Association for Suicide Awareness and Prevention (ASAP) at SUNY New Paltz, also commended the men for their actions that day.
“People were driving by and they took the initiative themselves to get out of their car, and they took initiative and they got on the person’s level, they talked to him like he was a human being,” she said. “Someone that takes initiative can save a life and that’s what happened in this case.”
ASAP came together last January and grew from a group of students who had lost their friend to suicide months prior. The group’s mission is to start a conversation about suicide and mental health issues and connect students with resources.
“I think empathy goes a long, long way,” McNeil said. “We all hope that the person whose life was saved, that they were immediately hooked up to resources because those programs are so important and those programs need to be fundraised for and they need to be talked about.”
According to Berardi, the Town of Ulster has a crisis intervention team, which Officer Short and multiple other officers are a part of. Additionally, Ulster Town Police are contracted with Ulster Mental Health and local hospitals for assistance and any other resources that they may need.
“Officer Short took over conversation with the gentleman and engaged him to come back over to the right side of the bridge so to speak,” Berardi said.
“In-depth training and first responder training is obviously vital, if we can’t get them to the point where they understand that they want the help, any kinds of services they offer regarding mental health aren’t going to help them at all.”
Officer Short commended Nestler and Letterio for their actions and said that more civilians like them are needed in society.
“It was a group effort, I couldn’t have done it alone,” Short said at the ceremony. “Civilians like you and the police department need each other.”
Letterio and Nestler commented on the amount of cars that drove by and said that it’s unfortunate that the distraught man got to that point.
“It’s a shame because somebody should have stopped before us,” they said.
Quigley said that Nestler, Letterio and Short all made note the amount of people that were recording the incident on their cell phones and added that there was about 100 cars that passed them.
“I think that says a lot about our society today, less people would rather stop and render assistance than be voyeurs,” Quigley said. “I think that’s important, particularly for young people who may come upon a scene like this, to remember that they can either be part of the solution or part of the problem.”