In moment of despair, Rock Falls man reaches out

ROCK FALLS – Serendipity. It’s the flipside of tragedy.

What if Jay didn’t have such a crappy pillow? What if Jody didn’t have a craving for a little ice cream? What if they’d been just 10, 20, or 30 seconds farther away?

Jay and Jody Scribner live in Rock Falls with their four children, ages 5, 7, 12 and 13, so a little alone time, even if it’s just a Wally run, is a welcome thing.

It was May 16, a Sunday night, and Jody wanted to go to the Sterling Walmart to get Jay a new pillow. Did he want to come along? He did.

She had a hankering for some ice cream, so they stopped at Culver’s first. Had to. It would have been closed afterward.

As they were heading north over the First Avenue Bridge, Jay spotted him out of the corner of his eye – a man on the outside of the east railing, gripping it. Trying to make up his mind.

And crying. Sobbing, really. “Nobody cares. Nobody cares.”

The Scribners flipped around and came back, parked in the middle of the bridge and popped on the emergency flashers. Jody called 911. Jay asked the dispatcher if it was OK if he approached the guy, and she said yes, if you think you can, yes.

Jay jumped the fence separating the sidewalk from the bridge traffic. As he reached the distraught man, the man made up his mind. He let go.

Jay lunged – and caught him, just. He pulled him back, held him fast as the man wriggled, struggling to break free, continuing to cry. “Nobody cares. Nobody stopped.”

“Hey, don’t do this. We care,” Jay reassured him. “We care. We stopped.”

A Sterling police officer arrived and together they pulled him away from the bridge, They set him down, tried to calm him. The man – just a kid, really, only 19 – was from South Carolina. He’d met a girl on Facebook and came all the way to Rock Falls to be with her. She broke up with him that day. The same day the motel kicked him out – he was out of money. And off his medication. And on the outs with his family.

And that, for him, was it. That’s how he wound up on the bridge.

He was crying the whole time he was telling his story. “No one cares, no one cares, no one stopped.”

“He wasn’t wrong,” Jay said. There was a lot of traffic on the bridge that night.

“That was the saddest part; everybody kept driving by and nobody stopped. ‘Nobody cares’, that’s what he kept saying.”

The police took the boy away for a psych evaluation. So far, no happy ending, but tragedy, at least for now, has been averted.

Jay, a driver for Republic Services, and Jody have kept in touch. The boy’s been hospitalized a time or two since, tried to cut his wrists, but there is a bright spot for him, again, thanks to the Scribners.

Jay took some of the things the boy said and got online, did a little noodling around looking for his family, and reached out to a woman who turned out to be his stepmother; she was ecstatic. His family had been looking for him. They’ve since talked.

On July 27, Jay was recognized by his boss at Republic Services, Kevin North, and by the city of Sterling for his heroic Good Samaritanism.

He’s not quite sure how to feel about that.

“It’s a weird feeling,” he said. ”It’s not my story. It’s his story. He’s the one who’s hurting.

“It’s hard for me to get praise and recognition off someone trying to end their life. I worked in the death industry. I worked for Sterling Vault, I did cremations and burials, so it was very nice not to have to see that aftermath.”

He and Jody are still marveling over the mystery of it all.

“We still find it so really strange ... there were so many things that had to happen,” Jay said.

“It’s one of those moments in life when you were where you were supposed to be. You were supposed to be in that spot. If she didn’t want the ice cream before we got to that bridge, that moment would not have existed.

“Maybe that was God’s way, or whatever, to say that there are two people I know who are strong enough to handle this, and put them there.”

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.