BANGOR, Maine — When Bangor police Officer Derek Laflin arrived on the Valley Avenue bridge Sunday night, he found a distraught man standing on the edge, staring down into the dark, shallow waters of the Kenduskeag Stream.
Laflin’s first thought was “Oh, crap,” he said Monday night during an interview at the Bangor Daily News.
Dispatch sent Laflin, who joined Bangor’s police force in December after two years with the Scarborough Police Department, to Valley Avenue around 9:30 p.m. after motorists reported a man in a white hat and dark clothing was wandering dangerously in traffic.
The 23-year-old officer found the man standing on the opposite side of the railing. He was despondent, crying, staring into the water and was either ignoring or oblivious to Laflin’s attempts to talk to him.
“I could see that he was obviously distraught about something. I couldn’t tell what,” Laflin said. “I kept talking to him and at first he wasn’t responding to me, he was just very quiet, crying, visibly upset.”
Laflin walked over slowly, watching the 25-year-old man closely to gauge his body language.
“I eventually get within 10 or 15 feet of him and I stop because I didn’t feel comfortable going any closer because I didn’t want him to jump,” said Laflin.
The man at the edge of the bridge eventually started talking. He told Laflin his girlfriend was leaving him and taking his children. The two men exchanged names, and Laflin tried to get the man to talk about anything but the reason he was standing on that bridge, including the weather.
“It was very windy and raining, so I had a hard time hearing him,” Laflin said.
Laflin worked his way to about 8 feet behind the man. He knew he’d have one chance to make a move.
“When you do this job long enough, you kind of learn certain looks that people give you. He’ll look at you and you just know he’s going to do it,” Laflin said. The man had that look.
As the man at the edge of the bridge looked away from Laflin and stared back into the water, Laflin rushed in, wrapped his arms around the man, pulled him over the railing, and the two fell to the ground.
“Once he was on the ground, he had nothing left. He just kind of quit,” Laflin said.
The man, who had left a suicide note at home for his family, was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center and later was admitted to Acadia Hospital for a mental evaluation.
Laflin said the Acadia Hospital staff called him Monday and informed him that the man was thankful for Laflin’s actions that Sunday night.
Laflin said he got into police work to help people, whether it’s someone experiencing a crisis or someone in need of advice and support.
“When it gets down to it, starting your shift you know you’re going to help at least one person that day,” he said.
“Officer Laflin took swift action by gaining positive control of the suicidal male and pulling him to safety,” Sgt. Dave Bushey wrote in a memo to Chief Mark Hathaway. “His actions were decisive and clearly in good judgment.”
When asked how his colleagues reacted to his actions, Laflin said he was greeted with, “How’s it goin’ hero?” when his shift started Monday evening.
“I’m not a hero,” Laflin said. “I’m just a guy doing my job.”
Bangor Daily News reporter Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.