Not every life-saving story an officer encounters in a career is riddled with drama and cinematic-like details.
Patience and a well-executed plan can often play the rescue role.
Such was the case in a recent Westminter call involving a suicidal man, a slow-speed chase and a family watching the encounter unfold from their front lawn.
This was, police said, the type of calls officers handle nearly every day on the job — calls that could go very wrong, but don’t because of training, effective decision making and plain old common sense.
The call came in about 5:30 p.m. on March 16 to report a suicidal man who was cutting his wrists in the backyard of his family’s home.
As police headed to the 9300 block of Jennrich Avenue, the family called with updates: The man was in the front yard, bleeding from his wrists and falling into the bushes. Then he was in his car in the driveway, with a box cutter knife in his lap.
Westminster Cpl. Ron Weber said they were also alerted by dispatch the man possibly had a gun and may be under the influence of drugs.
Weber, along with Sgt. Mark Lauderback and officers Steve Eifert and Jim Delk, responded.
When they arrived, the man started to drive away.
“He was just zig-zagging around his neighborhood streets, and going very slow like he was going to stop and get out,” Weber said.
The man was driving in circles through his neighborhood at about 10 mph.
He kept slumping forward in the driver’s seat. Police said they didn’t know if he was on a cell phone or was possibly using drugs.
“It looked like he was passing out,” Lauderback said. “In reality, he was leaning forward and cutting his wrists.”
Lauderback said because the man was driving so slowly, officers deployed “stop sticks” to deflate his tires.
The suspect finally came to a stop just one house down from where his family lives.
Family members were looking on at the scenario from the front yard.
The man wouldn’t exit the vehicle, and continued to cut his wrists, police said.
Police stayed patient, and tried to coax him out of the vehicle, but he wouldn’t budge.
The man threw his keys out the window of the Toyota Camry, though, so officers knew they were making progress.
Finally, the man complied and when he exited the car, Weber recognized him.
“He has a history of mental illness, and we’ve dealt with him a lot,” he said. “I thought he was a transient because typically he is getting stopped for drunk in public near Westminster Boulevard and Newland Street.”
Weber tapped in to the rapport he had built with the man over the many encounters they’ve shared.
“He was really calm and he got down on the ground,” Weber said. “We didn’t cuff him because his wrists were cut pretty badly, he got really deep.”
After the scenario was diffused, the family told police the man had recently purchased a gun.
Police found it wedged between the driver’s seat and center console.
After inspecting it, Lauderback said it was an Airsoft gun.
“It legitimately looked real,” he said. “It was made of metal, it was heavy, it didn’t have an orange tip like it’s supposed to have and it had the word ‘Colt’ on the side, which is a gun manufacturer.”
Lauderback said officers’ training in dealing with mentally ill suspects was key in this situation.
“Our training helps us understand and deal with mentally ill people,” he said. “You have to be calm, you can’t get wrapped up in the excitement and in the emotion.”
Added Weber: “We deal with these things a lot, and we know to give someone who is mentally ill time. We try and reason with them and let them go at their pace.”
Had the officers rushed the situation, it may have had a very different outcome, Lauderback said.
“It didn’t escalate because we had a plan.”