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Man honored for suicide save

May 24, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Kirk Williams and his family pulled onto an Interstate 81 on-ramp at Hagerstown May 5 and saw a man in a wheelchair rolling himself toward traffic.

Alarmed, Williams rolled down the window of his minivan and asked the man where he was going.

"He came right out and said he was going to kill himself by wheeling out in front of a tractor-trailer," Wiliams said.

He didn't know it yet but the distressed man also had a piece of broken glass pressed against his neck.

"I said to him, 'I can't let you do that,'" said Williams, 28, of Hagerstown.

Although he has no medical training and isn't a counselor, Williams stayed with the man until Maryland State Police arrived, calming him down and preventing him from going through with his plans for suicide.

Lt. Bruce Smith, commander of the Hagerstown barracks, praised Williams for his actions that evening and presented him with a Good Citizen Award Wednesday.

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Smith said it's unusual for a civilian to take the initiative in such a tenuous situation.

"He did a super job. It had the potential to be a tragic situation," Smith said.

Williams said he felt he had to act because it was 5 p.m. and traffic on I-81 was heavy.

"I knew that he could have caused a major accident and others could be hurt," he said.

After directing his wife to back the minivan away from them, Williams walked toward the man, who was at the edge of the roadway.

"I asked him "What can I do?" Williams recalled.

The man, who Williams said was in his 40s, told Williams he was distressed by marital problems and the death of his child.

"It was real tense. My main concern was what could happen if he wheeled into traffic - it was rush hour," he said.

Trying to keep the man calm, Williams talked about his family and tried not to upset him further.

When the man asked to talk to his wife, Williams used another motorist's cellular phone to make the call. Then he called the authorities.

State police arrived soon and brought the man's wife to the scene. They convinced him to give himself up and he was taken to Washington County Hospital, where he was treated and released.

The events before police arrived took about 20 minutes, but it "seemed like forever," said Williams.

After the situation was defused, the man motioned for Williams to approach and asked to shake his hand.

Williams, who works for a government agency, said it felt good to be able to help.

It was only after Williams got home that "the realization set in how bad it could have been," he said.

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