Crime & Courts

Kansas police chiefs laud officers

Wichita police Officers Shay Wash and Jason Newberry were nearing the end of their overnight shift. As they waited at a stop light at Kellogg and Oliver, Wash noticed a man sitting on the ledge of the bridge that spans Kellogg.

"He was sitting on the wrong side of the rail, talking on the phone and dangling his feet over the side," Wash said.

She parked the patrol car on Kellogg Drive, and the officers quietly rushed up the hill to find a distraught man in his 20s. He was threatening to jump onto the westbound lanes of Kellogg more than 40 feet below.

"If he wasn't already planning on it, he was working up the courage to do it," Newberry said. "It looked to me like he was waiting for a car to come by. I thought, 'If he falls through a windshield, he's going to kill someone.' "

The officers acted instinctively as they approached him from behind. In a flash, Newberry had his arms around the man. When the two appeared to be going over the edge, Wash grabbed the back of her partner's belt and pulled with all her might.

Together the officers wrestled the suicidal man over the fence to safety.

For their actions that morning, Wash and Newberry are being honored tonight in Topeka by the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police.

The annual awards program, which will be at the Topeka Downtown Ramada Hotel, recognizes exceptional performances by Kansas law enforcement officers.

In addition to Wash and Newberry, the 37 officers being honored this year include one other Wichita police officer and an officer from Valley Center Police Department.

For Wash and Newberry, the morning of Aug. 29 was uneventful on their west Wichita beat until they were sent to back up an east-side officer on a traffic stop near Kellogg and Hillside.

After finishing that call, Wash drove east on Kellogg and exited at Oliver as she prepared to make a U-turn and head back west on Kellogg to the next call.

As it passes over Kellogg, Oliver is bordered by a 2-foot-high concrete barrier built to keep cars from going over the side. Atop the barrier is a 3-foot-high iron fence to keep pedestrians from going over.

On the other side of the fence is a 2-foot wide ledge. That's where the man with the cell phone sat as the officers approached on foot.

"As we got closer, we could hear him crying," Newberry said.

He said they later learned the man was talking on his cell phone to a woman who knew he was about to kill himself.

"She was trying to talk him down, but she didn't know where he was," Newberry said.

As he prepared to make his move, Newberry yelled, "Police! Don't move!"

"I grabbed him in a kind of a head lock with one arm," he said. "Then I put my other arm around his waist and grabbed him by the belt."

After a brief struggle, the officers were able to pull the man over the fence.

"When we asked him specifically what he was going to do, he started crying," Wash said.

"He settled down pretty quick after that," Newberry said.

They took the man to Via Christi Hospital on Harry for a psychological evaluation.

"It was a girlfriend issue," Wash said.

Deputy Chief Tom Stolz nominated the officers for the Chiefs of Police award.

"The quick actions of Officer Wash and Officer Newberry saved (the man) from a tragic event," Stolz said in his nomination letter. "They recognized a threat to human life and successfully executed a life-saving response to that threat."

The other Wichita officer being honored tonight is Paul Holmes, who became a reserve officer after 24 years as an officer and detective for the Wichita Police Department.

In January 2009, Holmes started a multi-agency program designed to identify felons and violent gang members who have violated the terms of their probation or parole.

Over the past 19 months, Stolz said, the program has led to 65 felony arrests, and has resulted in the return to prison of 116 federal parolees and 84 state parolees.

The Valley Center officer being honored is Jason Easley, who is being cited for his actions at a Feb. 28, 2010, mobile home fire in the 2700 block of West 125th Street North.

As firefighters were battling the blaze, the home started to collapse. Two firefighters scrambled to get out of the building, but a Valley Center firefighter was trapped.

Easley, who was at the scene for traffic control, ran into the debris and helped pull the firefighter to safety.

"To my knowledge, Officer Easley did not have any fire protective gear on," the firefighter's wife later wrote in a letter of appreciation. "I don't believe he was even wearing gloves as he was grabbing debris.

"For him to take the action he did is truly remarkable. My family and I are truly appreciative."