“What’s your name?” paramedic Michael Castello asked the man clinging to a railing Monday on the Interstate 10 bridge more than 130 feet above the Mississippi River.
“Gone,” the man said.
“Gone what?” Castello asked, puzzled by the response.
“Gone to meet my maker.”
And with that, he let go, dropping from the bridge — a fall immediately stopped when Castello and his partner, Jarrod Love, lunged after him, grabbing hold of an arm and the man’s belt. A brief second later, the two had wrestled him back over the railing and onto the bridge’s roadway.
“Our adrenaline was running,” Love said. “Mike went for his arms; I reached over the rail, grabbed his belt, and we basically folded him back over.”
With the help of a passing motorist who’d stopped to help, the two paramedics held the man down on the ground. Moments later, Baton Rouge police officers arrived to help restrain the struggling man, placing him in handcuffs.
The man, who was not identified for medical privacy reasons, was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Castello and Love, paramedics with East Baton Rouge Parish EMS, had arrived less than two minutes earlier on an emergency call shortly before 4 p.m. The man had called 911, telling a dispatcher he’d parked his truck on the bridge and planned to jump.
Traffic was backed up on the bridge, with the man’s truck blocking traffic on the right westbound lane. A woman was crouched on the ground nearby, trying to calm the man and talk him back over the railing.
Within a minute of parking their ambulance near the highest point of the bridge’s span, the two paramedics were inching closer to the man, who’d already scaled the railing and was hanging, crouched, from the side of the bridge.
“We had maybe 15 or 20 seconds of actually trying to get him to talk, and that’s when he let go,” Love said. “We’d just gotten close enough to get our hands on him and pull him back over.”
Both men said they didn’t think about reaching for the man, didn’t consider how best to wrestle him back over the railing or worry about getting pulled over with him.
“It’s one of those things you don’t really think about; you just do it,” Castello said. “I don’t think we’d be able to live with ourselves if we’d just watched him go.”
It wasn’t until later, as the two sat at the hospital, Castello said, that they began to fully realize just what they’d done.
Castello, who’s worked as a paramedic in Baton Rouge for nearly 16 years, and Love, who’s spent more than eight years with the agency, both said they’d gone out on calls about a possible jumper on the iconic bridge over the Mississippi. On other occasions, though, they’d either arrived after police had managed to talk the person away from the edge — or after someone had taken the lengthy leap off its side. And while paramedics save lives during medical emergencies somewhere in the parish nearly every day, nothing in their training prepares them for a situation like Castello and Love encountered Monday.
“The stars had to align for us to get there at that moment,” Love said.