2012-08-30 / Front Page

Harbormaster rescues jumper from water below Jamestown Bridge

Sam Paterson found man clinging to bridge abutment

Sam Paterson was instrumental in saving a young man’s life Saturday after the subject jumped from the center span of the Jamestown Bridge in what is believed to have been a suicide attempt. 
PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH Sam Paterson was instrumental in saving a young man’s life Saturday after the subject jumped from the center span of the Jamestown Bridge in what is believed to have been a suicide attempt. PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH On Saturday night at approximately 9 p.m. motorists coming from North Kingstown noticed some unusual activity on the Jamestown Bridge. A car in front of them had stopped on the eastbound side of the bridge. As they watched, a man in his late 20s or early 30s emerged from the car, walked to the railing, and jumped from the bridge’s center span. The witnesses immediately dialed 911.

Harbormaster Sam Paterson had just finished his shift, and he was home at Fox Run when he heard the Fire Department radio crackle with the bulletin. He knew what he had to do. He went to his boat and headed for the bridge. By Paterson’s estimate, he was on the scene within approximately 10 or 15 minutes from the time that he heard the call on the radio.

Two Jamestown police officers were on the scene within minutes, along with members of the North Kingstown Police Department. Jamestown Sgt. Keith Woodbine positioned himself on top of the bridge looking down, trying to determine where the jumper might have landed in the water. At the same time another Jamestown offi- cer was at the end of the bridge on the Jamestown side trying to get a view from a different angle.

“That’s the usual procedure that we take so that we can try to pinpoint a location,” Woodbine said.

As Paterson was en route to the bridge, he informed Woodbine by radio that he was on the way. When he arrived, the sergeant shined a bright light down onto the spot where the jumper had entered the water.

Upon his arrival, Paterson told Woodbine via radio that he could hear someone calling for help. It wasn’t long before he found the jumper, badly injured, clinging to the mussels that had attached themselves to the bridge abutment.

“It seemed like he was in pretty tough shape, so what I did right away was to put a line on him,” Paterson said. “I went underneath his arms, tied a bowline, and cleated him off the boat.”

Paterson then attempted to get the jumper into his boat, but the victim was too heavy. Within minutes the Coast Guard was on the scene to lend assistance. Two emergency medical technicians helped to get the victim into a lifeboat. He was then taken to Plum Point, where the boat was met by a North Kingstown rescue that transported the victim to the hospital.

According to Paterson, it was hard to tell how severely the victim was injured. He noted that the jumper couldn’t do anything to help himself, doing all that he could to hang on to the mussels on the bridge to save himself from drowning. Paterson said that he had received no update on the jumper’s condition. “You usually don’t,” he said. “When you help somebody out you never hear from them.”

Paterson said he was surprised the jumper survived.

“Usually what happens is that when they hit the water, they knock themselves unconscious and end up drowning,” Paterson said. “Fortunately this kid didn’t. He got some injuries, but exactly what I don’t know. He wasn’t doing too well.”

Paterson has worked with Woodbine on rescues in the past, including an incident some years ago when a young man jumped from the old Jamestown Bridge. The jumper survived in that instance as well. Paterson had only positive things to say about Woodbine’s efforts on Saturday night.

“He was great,” Paterson said. “I’ve worked with him for years and years. He knows what he’s doing up there.”

For his part, the police sergeant was equally complimentary about Paterson’s heroic actions. “I think it’s fantastic what he did,” Woodbine said. “He saved a life. That’s a good harbormaster.”

Paterson has been on the water for many years, and he has been the Jamestown harbormaster for more than 20 years. He is first-aid certified. During his years on the job, he has been on the scene of other jumping incidents at both the Jamestown Bridge and the Newport Bridge. In the majority of the cases the victims did not survive.

“I haven’t seen everything, because every day there’s something new,” Paterson said. “I’ve dealt with all different kinds of rescues. I’ve seen so many different things. I’m never surprised.”

As an example, the harbormaster mentioned a recent incident when a 16-foot boat ran aground at the north end of Rose Island and was taking on water. He said that when he arrived on the scene he found that the small boat had three passengers, all of whom weighed more than 250 pounds. The total weight of the passengers was well in excess of the limit for safe operation of such a craft.

Paterson was humble about his efforts on Saturday night. “I’m just glad I was able to get out there. You don’t normally have this type of result. We got lucky.”

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