DES MOINES, Iowa -- The heroic actions of some Iowa law enforcement officers were the focus of attention at the statehouse Wednesday as Governor Branstad was on hand for the annual Sullivan Brothers Award of Valor ceremony.
Three of those officers were honored for their actions on a Fort Dodge bridge last December. They risked their own lives to save the life of a man thinking of taking his own.
“I was the first one to arrive at the scene,” said Lt. Dennis Mernka of the Fort Dodge Police Department. “I could see the subject out on the middle of the bridge.”
It was Dec. 12, 2015. There was a distressed man on the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over the Des Moines River basin in Fort Dodge.
“He was determined to die that day and we were determined to keep him from dying,” said Trooper Matt Eimers of the Iowa State Patrol, District 7.
Nearly four hours after Lt. Mernka arrived on the scene, the distraught man agreed to come off of the bridge with the officers but then changed his mind.
“He jerked away from us and I kind of fell through the trestles and kind of half off of the bridge. Trooper Eimers kind of got tangled up and fell on the bridge,” said Officer Nathan Eldredge of the Fort Dodge Police Department. “I climbed up and he was running away from me back towards the middle and I chased him down. At about the time I got to him he looked over his shoulder and dove for the edge.
“This area of the bridge is approximately 40 feet in the air, and without regard to personal safety, Officer Eldridge pursued the subject. As the subject jumped off the bridge, Officer Eldridge dove for him and grabbed him around the torso, as the subject went over the bridge,” said Commissioner Roxanne Ryan of the Iowa Department of Safety.
The man trying to end his life weighed 250 pounds.
“The weight of that person began to pull Officer Eldredge over the edge of the bridge,” said Commissioner Ryan. “Regardless, he did not let go of that man.
Trooper Eimers grabbed officer Eldredge.
“Lt. Mernka lunged onto the other two officers and was able to stabilize them from going over the edge,” said Commissioner Ryan.
The man ultimately slipped from the grasp of officer Eldredge and fell to the ground below.
“I heard one of the troopers say he was moving down below, myself and trooper Eimers ran to the end of the bridge, ran down to the rail tracks that were down there below and we started to render first aid to him,” said Officer Eldredge. “He had some pretty severe injuries.
“He`s still alive, lots of rehabilitation but he`s doing better,” said Lt. Mernka.
The men say they're grateful to be honored with the award, but add they don't want to forget all of their co-workers who also put their lives on the line on a daily basis.