WINSLOW — Officer Linda Smedberg reached out through the beams of the Two Cent Bridge and shook the man’s hand — twice — promising that he wouldn’t be arrested.

He’d get a cigarette and would be given help.

“OK, I’m ready to turn myself in,” he told Smedberg. “I’m not ready to die.”

After a half-hour of speaking with Smedberg while standing on a bridge cable, the man climbed back onto the bridge and ended the tense police and rescue response to his threat to jump.

The scene unfolded in a public setting Sunday evening — on the foot bridge that crosses the Kennebec River, connecting Waterville and Winslow — and its conclusion highlighted a bond of trust that quickly developed between the female police officer and an unidentified man in his 50s who wanted to end his life. Smedberg said she kept appealing to the man to think of his family, to think of God, to not give up hope.

“I kept telling him: we’re there to get him help,” she said. “He was confused. I think he wanted to (jump off the bridge), but was very scared. I think he had a lot on his mind and didn’t know what to do with it.”

It was shortly after 5:30 p.m. when the man made a comment to a passerby near the bridge area that he intended to commit suicide. The bridge is currently closed because it is undergoing repairs; a “Bridge Closed” sign is hung at the entrance after caution tape and plastic fencing.

The passerby called 911 and several officers from both Winslow and Waterville arrived at the bridge and approached the man, who was standing on a cable about 10 feet away from the bridge. A Waterville rescue boat was launched into the river, and a Winslow rescue boat was put on standby down-river.

The man told the officers not to come any closer, but after a few minutes he decided he would allow Smedberg near him and would only speak to her.

Smedberg said the man admitted to drinking alcohol recently and did not say what specifically was troubling him, except to say that “I can’t live anymore” and “I can’t take it.” For the next half-hour, Smedberg kept talking to the man, telling him that everybody feels frustration, and that’s normal, but everyone needs someone to talk to about it.

Although she had never before been in such a situation, Smedberg said she knew to focus on getting the man help.

“He said he loved his family and I said that it (jumping) would really upset them,” Smedberg said. “I asked if he believed in God, and he said yes, and I said that God wouldn’t want you to do this.”

After going back and forth several times, the man began to consider coming back to the bridge on the assurance that he wouldn’t be arrested. Smedberg said she promised him and shook his hand twice, saying they just wanted to help him.

Shortly after 6:10 p.m. the man climbed back, sat down and smoked a cigarette. He was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer Campus for an evaluation, Smedberg said.

Karen Mosher, psychologist and clinical director for Kennebec Behavioral Health in Waterville, said there are often multiple reasons leading up to such a suicide attempt.

“There’s no one or two or three or four set of reasons why people end up in that situation,” Mosher said. “It’s impossible to know.”

Anyone who is acutely suicidal or knows of someone who is should call 911 or the statewide crisis hotline, 1-888-568-1112, she said. There are also additional resources on the website of Suicide Prevention Resource Center, www.sprc.org.

As illustrated by Smedberg’s efforts, “it helps, not hurts, to talk to people,” Mosher said.

“Sometimes people worry about talking to someone. Talking to people does not put the idea in their head. It’s preventative way more than it is a cause,” Mosher said. “Police in this area are very well trained and they understand what’s effective, they have good protocols and they used them.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

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