Courtesy Patrol encounters bridge jumper, deputies save man’s life

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Richie Acevedo works the night shift for the West Virginia Courtesy Patrol. He covers a 35-mile section of Route 19, which includes the famous New River Gorge Bridge. Most nights, Richie’s job involves removing animals from the road and assisting travelers with car trouble. But one morning before dawn two weeks ago, he came upon an empty car. He saw a shadow running down the road on the bridge. And it turned into a night he would never forget. 

“It was one of the most frightening moments of my life,” Richie recalls. 

At 5:17am, Richie was driving his normal loop along Route 19. It was a foggy morning before daylight. He saw a vehicle parked along the side of the road with its flashing lights turned on. He pulled over beside the vehicle and turned on his safety lights. 

Richie approached the vehicle cautiously to determine the situation. “But no one was in the vehicle,” he says. “The keys were still in the ignition. That’s a tell-tale sign of a jumper.” 

In his eight years on the job working the midnight shift, Richie has found 38 abandoned cars by the New River Gorge Bridge. All belonging to people who committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. 

He’s come to recognize the signs of a jumper’s car–keys in the ignition, cell phone in the car, usually a short note or instructions are left on paper. 

“It always makes me sad,” Richie reflects. “I always wonder if I’d arrived sooner, could I have helped them?”

The New River Gorge National Park draws tourists from across the world to rural West Virginia. In eight years on the job patrolling the section of Route 19 which contains the bridge, Courtesy Patrol driver Richie Acevedo has found the abandoned vehicles of 38 people who committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. Photo by Steve Shaluta, USDOT.

On this morning, after checking out the car, he went back to his truck to put out his safety cones. But then he heard scuffling coming from the bridge. 

“I happened to see the silhouette of a person that was running down the bridge into oncoming traffic,” Richie says. “So I started hollering at him and shining my light towards him and took off after him on the bridge.”

Richie says he saw the man stop and look over the side of the bridge a couple of times, as if he was looking for a certain place to jump. 

“As I’m chasing him, this big semi truck comes speeding through the fog,” Richie remembers vividly. “The wind of that brushes me up against the edge of the concrete bridge wall. Then I realized I can’t do this by myself. He could pull me over the bridge with him.”

RIchie Acevedo works the night shift for the West Virginia Courtesy Patrol. Most nights he spends his time clearing dead animals from the road and assisting motorists with car trouble. But this was a night he will never forget.

So Richie ran back to his truck as fast as he could, through the fog and traffic. He called 911 to report a bridge jumper. He says a crew of five Fayette County Sheriff’s deputies arrived within two minutes. 

“They got here so fast,” Richie says. “They risked their own lives and safety.”

Richie saw the situation unfold on the bridge from there. Deputies arrived in both the northbound and southbound lanes, divided by a concrete median several feet high. He watched them scale the barrier and quickly cross traffic in order to help their colleagues who were working to subdue the man.  

It was a struggle. The man appeared determined to jump. At one point, he wiggled free and made it over the sidewall of the bridge. A deputy was able to grab his arm, and they all worked together to bring him up and over the wall, back onto the road. 

“The reaction time of the deputies getting there and acting so swiftly is what saved this man’s life,” Richie states. “They acted so swiftly.” 

After the man was in custody, Richie chose not to meet him in person. He didn’t want to further traumatize a person on what was clearly the worst day of his life. “I’m really grateful this guy’s life was saved by the deputies and that I was able to get the call in,” he reflects. 

When the Courtesy Patrol helps a motorist, they are asked to fill out a comment card. As the jumper was in no shape to fill out a comment card on this night, Richie asked Corporal K. Spears, one of the deputies who saved the jumper’s life, to fill out the comment card instead. Richie credits the deputies with risking their own lives to save a man they had never met in extremely dangerous conditions. Photo by Richie Acevedo.

Richie says the mission of the WV Courtesy Patrol is passenger safety. While they help change tires, for example, their goal is to ensure safety on the roads. 

Most nights, his only stops are to clear animals from the road. “That’s our biggest thing,” he says. “Most people think we just change tires.” 

They do whatever is necessary to keep motorists safe. Whether that’s changing a tire, giving them a ride to the next town, or stopping to check on a car alongside the road. 

After finding 38 abandoned cars at the New River Gorge Bridge on his night shift, Richie thinks often of what leads people down that path. 

“There’s people that have down times and low times,” he says. “I have had them. You just don’t know what people are going through.”

He hopes this incident can be used to further awareness across West Virginia about the avenues available to people who have fallen on hard times. “Talk to somebody. Call the suicide hotline. Get help. It’s out there.” 

Richie also encourages drivers to be more aware of their surroundings on the roads, saying, “Slow down when you see vehicles on the side of the road. Move over to the passing lane. That’s the law. That’s there to save lives. People need to pay better attention or accidents will happen.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the hotline by dialing 988. You will be connected with a professional who can help you.

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