Would-be jumper saved by York deputy, local attorney

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County Judicial Center

Editor's note: This article originally ran in The York Dispatch on Feb. 17, 2011.

A woman who tried to jump from the sixth floor of the York County Judicial Center's indoor atrium was saved by a sheriff's deputy and a local attorney.

York County Deputy Dennis Williams and attorney Kurt Blake grabbed the woman and pulled her back to safety after she climbed over the glass railing and was standing on a narrow ledge, York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber said.

It happened Feb. 17, 2011.

"I believe a life was saved," the sheriff said. "They both need to be commended for their actions."

The 54-year-old woman escaped injury during the 9:40 a.m. incident and was involuntarily committed to York Hospital, Keuerleber said.

"This was two seconds away from a horrible tragedy. It makes me sick to think what could've happened," Williams said. "When she was talked to later, she said she thought she could fly, and she wanted to get away from all that was happening to her. It's sad."

Blake, 43, said he was shaken up, and that even hours later the incident still didn't seem real to him.

"It's sort of a surreal feeling now, like it was a dream and not reality," he said.

'Sixth sense': Williams, 65, spent 31 of his 36 years on the York City Police force as a homicide detective. He credits the job with helping him develop a sixth sense about people and their foibles, including the would-be jumper.

He was sitting at the security desk on the sixth floor and was watching the woman, who was sitting at a bank of chairs along the railing.

"She was real fidgety. ... Something was bothering me about her," he said. "I felt uneasy — I just didn't feel good about it."

Williams was called to Courtroom No. 4, and he went, but said he almost immediately turned around and came back out.

"Something said, 'You better get out there,'" he said. "She was still sitting there, with her head in her hands."

Williams said he called down to the sheriff's control room to ask other deputies to train a sixth-floor security camera on her, which is when the woman made her move.

"She was up, on the chair, over the rail and she had moved out onto the thin ledge," he said. "I dropped the phone and ran."

More:York deputy saves distraught teen from 7-story fall

Falling away: Meanwhile, Blake was walking out of Courtroom No. 4 and saw what was happening.

"I looked up and saw a woman going over the rail," Blake said, and he dove toward her.

Both men — along with a third, unidentified man — grabbed her, and not a moment too soon, according to Blake.

"It sort of felt like she was falling away," he said. "I wrapped my arms around her pretty hard."

Williams agreed she had started to fall as they were grabbing her.

"I could feel her pulling out of her sweatshirt," he said. "Thank goodness Kurt was there. ... We pulled her in against the railing and the three of us together pulled her back over the rail. She didn't try to jump, she just let herself go."

Response 'incredible': Blake said Williams got on his radio and called for help.

"You should've seen the deputies come," he said. "The response was incredible."

It's the first time someone has tried to commit suicide by jumping from a ledge bordering the Judicial Center's atrium, Keuerleber said. The woman was there supporting another person who had a court hearing, he said.

Blake's law partner in 2011, Ron Gross, was given a prestigious Carnegie Hero Fund Commission award in 2004 for rescuing a court reporter under attack by a gun-wielding man a few blocks from the old county courthouse. The attacker was shot and killed by sheriff's deputies.

"I'm just trying to keep up with Ron," Blake quipped. "We're competitive by nature."

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.