Last Updated: 3:27 p.m.
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 and the Palm Coast Fire Police 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 she 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. Flagler Beach Police Department’s Detective Rosanna Vinci was also negotiating. “Deputy Jenkins immediately grabbed her hand before she could fall and secured her to the rail with handcuffs.”
In Palm Coast Fire Department Lt. Patrick Juliano’s words, “Several times while we were there she let go of the overpass but the deputies upon the bridge never once let go.”
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. As Juliano described it in an email, “Ladder 25 arrived on scene to immediately set up the Ladder in the middle lane of I-95 SB. The Ladder was set up facing NB in order to reach the female patient attempting to jump. Driver Engineer Graham along with FCSO Deputy Rainey climbed to the ladder once it was in position to rescue the female patient.”
“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.
Several others ensured that the operation remained safe. “DE Davidson maintained aerial control at the pedestal and positioned the vehicle flawlessly,” Juliano said. “Firefighter Pacifico, Firefighter Fortunato set up all the medical supplies in the event the situation escalated. Lieutenant Kulev did an outstanding job in command. The outstanding team effort by everyone on scene contributed to saving this young lady’s life this morning.”
“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,” one of the firefighters says during the rescue, referring to the ladder. 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 walk off a couple of times but was convinced to comply with procedures, according to dispatch notes.
“This morning was an emotionally charged scene,” Juliano said. “There were lots of people who invested themselves into this young lady surviving. The emotional toll a call like this takes can be overwhelming. I really need to commend FCSO Deputy Jenkins and FBPD Officer Vinci, they were spectacular in keeping hold of this young lady, especially holding on to her through a guard rail and fence. This morning we saw everyone come together, do their best and the best result was achieved. I am extremely proud of all of them and wanted to recognize their efforts.”
Engine 21 and Ladder 25 were on the call, as was Flagler County Fire Rescue 21.
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.