With its suicide rate leading the state, Flagler County has been the scene of repeated and traumatic cases of individuals taking their own life. Over the weekend, authorities converged on three suicide attempts–by gun in Flagler Beach, by hanging and by cop off a county road in western Flagler, and by knife in Palm Coast’s K-Section.
In all three cases, the suicide attempts were defused and the individuals safeguarded.
In one case, two Sheriff’s Office dispatchers, Josie Gammon and Tinna Eddy handled the call–was able to talk a man with a gun out of the woods.
That incident took place Saturday afternoon at Betty Steflik Park in Flagler Beach, involving the Flagler Beach Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the 911 dispatcher, Flagler County Fire Flight, Flagler Beach paramedics and county paramedics.
It took 41 tense minutes between 1:22 and 2:03 p.m., after a 76-year-old resident of Flagler Beach’s Ocean Palm Villas called 911 to report his whereabouts so authorities could come collect his body: he told the dispatcher that he had a gun and two bullets in it. He had parked his car in the park’s parking lot and walked into the woods, even put a plastic bag on a tree so people looking for him could identify the way, but had collapsed and was unable to get up. (The feel-like midday temperature was well past 100.) He wasn’t wanting to anyway: he told the dispatchers he intended to shoot himself before cops got there. He spoke of numerous medical problems that kept getting worse, of being constantly sick, of losing the will to eat, losing weight, of not wanting to go on. He says he’s down to 112 pounds, from 160.
“You have a gun with you?” Gammon asked him.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, his voice more tired and soft than anxious.
“Please don’t kill yourself, we can get you help,” Gammon tells him, convincing him to stay on the phone with her.
“I can’t promise anything, OK?” he tells the dispatcher.
“I understand, I understand,” she tells him.
He tells her the gun is cocked.
He apologizes for causing “all this trouble.”
“It’s not any trouble. It’s what I’m here for,” Gammon tells him. Last year, Gammon, a 12-year veteran of the dispatch center, was on a 911 call with the frantic wife of a man who had a gun to his head. The man shot himself during the call. (See the story here.)
He blames himself for being a coward.
“No. No. That’s not what it is at all. That’s not what it is,” Gammon tells him. “You’re not a coward. You’re just going through some stuff [inaudible].”
He was shaking, he tells the dispatcher.
The dispatcher reassures him and tries to encourage him to walk back to his car, to describe where he is. She speaks to him as a teacher speaks to a very young student at a difficult time.
“Tell me where the gun is right now,” Gammon asks him.
“It’s in my hand,” he says.
“It’s in your hand? OK. Can you put it down? Is it loaded?”
He says yes. Two bullets. It’s a Smith and Wesson .38 with hollow-point bullets chambered, authorities later learn.
“I can put it down if you want,” he says.
“Yeah, I want you to put it down,” she tells him, using his first name. “You don’t need that.” She tells him to “let it go, you don’t need it, OK?”
There is a silence. A long silence. And then: “OK.”
“Thank you,” she tells him. “Did you let it go?”
It’s 1:29 p.m.
Deputies and Flagler Beach police had been immediately dispatched, his phone pinged. But he couldn’t readily be located as they searched.
The dispatcher is having difficulties understanding from him where he is. He describes his setting only in generalities. At one point the man says he would shoot into the ground so police could find him. The dispatcher dissuades him from doing so, telling him not to touch the firearm.
“I don’t want you to shoot it at all,” she tells him.
“No, I don’t want you to have it,” Gammon says.
“I’m still with you, OK?”
Fire Flight launches at 1:41. The man stayed on the line with the dispatcher but his voice got progressively weaker. He tells the dispatcher he doesn’t think he’ll be there long. He’d been out by the park since morning and hadn’t taken his day’s medications. He is worried about his car, asking if someone can take it home. The dispatcher keeps him speaking about his health, his difficulties eating, encouraging him as he speaks, “I’m here, I’m here.” She doesn’t want him to lose touch, but he sounds as if he were fading.
“Still with me?”
“Yeah but I don’t know for how long though,” he says.
She tells him she has an ambulance for him. He gets so tired that he says, “I don’t want to talk.” But he describes what he’s wearing.
At 1:50, Fire Flight spots him. The man can hear the helicopter. “They’re right above me,” he says. A minute later he tells the dispatcher he’s going to try to crawl his way out. “They’re not going to be able to see me under this tree,” he says. Soon, he’s in the open, and he sees Fire Flight coming back to his position. He waves. He thinks they don’t see him. He tells the dispatcher to tell the pilot to make a 180 and come back. He says he has his strength back. “I’m out in the open,” he says.
But the line goes dead. The dispatcher tries calling him back. “Not accepting calls at this time.” The cops spot the bag, then spot him. By then, he’s able to stand, and police tell him to walk back toward them, backward, with his hands on his head. He complies. At 2:03, the paramedics are cleared to attend to him.
At 4:11 p.m., his wife calls 911 to report her husband missing. She is soon connected to him. Four rounds were found on him, two in the gun.
The man was Baker Acted.
Five hours later, sheriff’s deputies were called out to a property on County Road 2006 just south of Daytona North (the Mondex) where a 33-year-old man was trying to hang himself. A caller to 911 at 7:03 p.m. is describing the situation, telling the dispatcher the man had grabbed a horse lead and walked into a barn. The caller tells the dispatcher to ensure that police are quiet as they make their way in: he has had issues before and tried to kill himself. At first he doesn’t know the caller is on the phone. But he has no access to firearms, the dispatcher is told.
Deputies arrive at 7:11. “Upon arrival the subject appeared agitated and after speaking with him for a few minutes he mumbled, ‘I have to do this,’ dispatch notes state. He had by then tried to hang himself: there were ligature marks on his neck, and it appears the deputies stopped him. But he was intent on continuing. The man swung at one of the deputies, what authorities believed was an attempt at suicide by cop.
“The subject was at a brief stand off until he began complying and was taken into custody without incident,” the report continued. The man was taken to Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach. His mother told authorities he had previously been “kicked out” of a Stewart-Marchman behavioral facility because of his “violent tendencies.”
The third incident took place Sunday (Sept. 16) on Kaufman Place in Palm Coast, involving a 51-year-old woman and her wife.
The 51-year-old found out her 49-year-old wife had been cheating. The couple started drinking and talking about the incident, but the 51 year old started getting aggressive to the point that the 49-year-old called 911 from the driveway. The 51 year old then “came out of the residence holding two stainless steel kitchen knives in her hands,” according to an incident report, making threats “to harm her and also harm herself.” The woman then pressed the 6-inch kitchen knife to her neck and threatened to kill herself, according to the report.
She then threw the knives into the woods just before deputies showed up. The woman then told deputies that she’d never actually pressed the knife to her neck but did wave it around, and only because she’d been drinking. She was not initially cooperative as deputies attempted to Baker Act her, however, but finally complied.
Super Job by LEO. Every stinking day they lay down their lives for the good of mankind. True HEROS
We are so blessed to have the dispatchers we do in Flagler County. Unfortunately, there are more calls like this than we are all aware of. Y’all are the true heroes! Thank you for all that you do!
My sincere appreciation to our good law enforcement sheriff officers.
Maybe is our economy will be as good as we are told, but for all, we would not have as many suicide attempts.
Concerned Citizen says
We give plenty of kudos to our LEO’s. Not that they aren’t deserved. Let’s not forget our dispatchers as they are the ones who initially get the call.I hope that there is some sort of counseling available for them if needed. It’s a pretty stressful job.
When I worked for the Sheriff’s Office back home I worked a year in dispatch before moving over to Patrol. It made me appreciate that person on the radio that much more. When you go out on a traffic stop and you are in a rural area it’s reassuring to know someone is paying attention to you.
GOD bless our law enforcement
Wonderful work by the dispatchers. They are truly the unsung heroes! Good work, also, by the FCSO!
Good job Josie! Our LE rocks!
Just Me says
Hats off to great dispatching work. You are the real heroes. We are proud of the work you do each and every day.
Something is truly wrong with Flagler County’s mental health or the way we treat it. Way too high of a suicide rate. There must be something done as a preventive, for we cant count on police and dispatchers to talk them all down. We need a better health care, Single payer, free health care for all. This man was wanting to take his life because of his poor health and the burdens we place on our citizens just to stay alive. No more for profit insurance companies. Its sick what we do to our own in this Country.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
God bless our most precious county employees. You are worth more than your weight in gold. I am so very proud of you all and as such will continue to lobby for a safe ‘home’ for everyone in public safety. Dispatchers, deputies, detectives, are irreplaceable.
Thank you for saving 3 lives and giving these poor souls the compassion and care they so desperately needed at that desperate moment in their lives.
Chris Howell says
Let them take their lives. It is their choice. We have no right to dictate the time of one choosing to leave this world.
Chris Howell- Bless your heart