A minor miracle on the upper deck of New York City's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge may have helped save the life of a suicidal Chinese-American man.
Soon after police responded Monday afternoon to a report of a man who had parked his car on the bridge and gone "over the edge," they learned that the man spoke only Cantonese. They then summoned Officer Yi Huang, a Cantonese-speaking Chinese-American, to communicate with him.
Huang, who patrols the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown, quickly arrived at the scene and began speaking with the man, who he learned hailed from his hometown: Taishan village in China's southern Guangdong province.
Huang learned that the man, shown in photographs clinging to a bridge cable at mid-span wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans, was "despondent over arguments he had been having with his 18-year-old daughter, and also was upset over finances," according to a statement from the New York Police Department.
"Officer Huang … spoke of his own family's experience and asked him to think about seeing his daughter at her wedding, or meeting his grandchildren," according to the statement.
Huang, who immigrated to Chinatown with his family when he was 4 years old, had to shout to the man from a distance of 10 to 15 feet — if he came any closer, the man threatened to jump, he said. An ominous thunderstorm approached and winds gathered force as the men negotiated for hours, severely backing up traffic to the bridge, which connects Staten Island and Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, a group of visitors to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, at the bridge's western end, had a clear view of the drama as it unfolded.
Judith Savercool of Middletown, N.J., was eating lunch with her husband at Fort Wadsworth around noon when she noticed the man squatting on the ledge.
"I felt pure panic," said Savercool. "I personally have two people that I know, friends, who committed suicide. They don't realize they hurt the people they leave behind."
Savercool said a prayer circle formed near the overlook as adults and children alike peered through binoculars to get a closer look at the man. The crowd was joined by two construction workers who had been told to leave the bridge as officers continued to negotiate with the man.
Despite heavy rain and darkening skies, Savercool said she could not leave Fort Wadsworth until she saw whether the man jumped or was rescued.
At about 4:30, a streak of lightning flashed above the bridge. Shortly afterward, she said, the man finally walked over the railing to safety.
The man, whose name was not released, was transported to Staten Island University Hospital in good condition, the NYPD said in the release.