Eric Torres, a teammate at Atrium Health University City, awarded for his heroic act of assisting a man attempting suicide.

News | 2 years ago

Surgical Technician Finds His Purpose by Helping Save Stranger Attempting Suicide

Following a lifelong battle watching his mother deal with episodes of depression and thoughts of suicide, Eric Torres struggled to come to grips with what more he could have done for her before her passing. Years later, Eric found his purpose when he noticed an individual who was trying to end his life. Recognizing the situation, he quickly jumped into action to play a critical role in saving the man’s life. This is Eric’s firsthand account of what happened that day.

Editor’s Note: On August 2, 2019, Eric Torres was driving along the Harrisburg Road bridge over I-485 to pick up some ice cream for his children when he noticed something that didn’t feel right. In the distance, he saw two women and two police officers talking to a man who was intently looking over the bridge. When he pulled his car to the side of the road, things escalated quickly as he noticed the two officers holding the wrists of the man who was now dangling over the bridge. Jumping into action, Eric rushed in to offer his assistance. Minutes later, he helped to pull the man back over the ledge to safety. This is Eric’s account of that fateful day in his own words:

By Eric Torres, Surgical Technician at Atrium Health University City


Where do I start? I guess you can say that the genesis for what happened on that overpass, began many years before.  

My mother suffered from depression and anxiety – even expressing suicidal thoughts at certain points in her life. There were many days and nights of painstaking and delicate conversations to bring my mother down from those low points. The mother of Atrium Health University teammate, Eric Torres.

Eventually, my mother succumbed to a form of dementia known as frontal lobe disease. I was never truly able to help her with her personal demons and that even resonates today. 

Mom's passing left me with a great deal of grief, grief that lingered for years after her passing. There were always questions of "Why wasn't I able to help her realize her potential?" or "What was the purpose of these horrible feelings that I carried?" I found out on August 2, 2019 what it all meant.

That Friday evening started like many others – an ice cream run for my two rambunctious 5-year-old children. What I didn't know, was that I was about to be a part of a life or death situation, one that would have such a profound effect on myself but most of all, an experience that would answer some of the questions surrounding my mom’s death.

I was sitting in my car, waiting for the light to change, when I noticed two women speaking to a person on the opposite side of the cement wall, on the overpass of I-485. This looked strange, but my brain wasn't fully processing what was actually going on. Then, from my vantage point, I could see two Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department SUV’s speeding towards the three individuals.  

The cars jumped the median and then came to a sudden stop. Both police officers rushed out of their cars towards the group. At that moment, the man disappeared from site. My brain had still not caught up to what was going on, but I knew something bad was taking place in front of my eyes.

I immediately hit the gas pedal, blew through the red light and shot out of my car. Much to my horror and disbelief, the two officers were holding onto the wrists of this poor individual as he dangled over the railing of the interstate bridge. What made matters worse was that it was raining.

Instinctively I jumped in and tried to get myself as far under the guard rail, hoping to grab the waist of his pants. I knew if I did so, I'd be able to control him.

After a few unsuccessful attempts, I was able to finally grab the belt line of his pants, while my left arm was extended over the barrier of the overpass. At that moment, I maneuvered my body enough in order to bring my right hand under the rail to grab his face. I felt that if I could control his face, I could keep his eyes locked onto me, rather than looking at the vehicles flying by underneath him. 

With one hand scraping up against the concrete barrier and the other holding onto his chin, I started providing words of encouragement. My instinct was to mention my mother and grandmother, who I had lost a few years apart from each other. I told the man, that I understood where he was at but if I could get through losing them both, that he could overcome whatever it was that brought him to make the decision to end his life. My mother’s story took center stage and was the catalyst for the outcome.

I remember the hopeless look on his face as he uttered the words, "Let me go… I can't do it." I'll never forget that for the rest of my life.

Hearing those words, I knew that we could not fail him. For my own sake, I knew that I couldn't witness this person's death right before my eyes. The sense of urgency grew.

I looked over at the police officer, who was holding his wrist next to me and told him that the highway needed to be shut down. He had a look of concern but was focused on the task at hand. He was unflappable and the sheer example of what it is to be a CMPD officer. He directed someone who was over his shoulder to hit his walkie talkie on his chest since his hands were still firmly grasped around the man’s wrists. They responded and he called for more help. 

I redirected my focus to the man hanging from the overpass because my arms were getting beat up pretty bad – and worse yet, my hand started to go numb. I could feel my grip starting to loosen from the waist of his pants.

Due to the circumstance growing more dire, in the most militant way possible, I told the person that he was coming up and he was not going to give up. I remember not giving him an opportunity to say no. I also noticed that his shirt had the word God written on it. In my disbelief, I told him that God had something to do with all of us being there for him on that overpass. I refused to accept no for an answer and with a faint voice he said, "I’ll try."

That statement set off a domino effect and a renewed sense of strength. The officer to the right of me said that the person had latched onto his wrist and that now was their moment to pull him up to safety.

It took all of us to get him up on the opposite side of the guardrail, but he came up horizontally and was laying on a few inches of the overpass ledge. We had to somehow get him over the actual railing. This was the only time I feared for my safety because I didn't know if he would reconsider and bring one of us over the railing with him. Luckily with a collective effort, we were able to get him over to our side. He took a tumble and got to his knees and wept. 

I remember looking over at the exhausted officers and thinking to myself, "Wow." There wasn't much to say at that moment, but the story was written all over our faces of what we had just done.  

I got down on my knees in front of the man and put my head up against his head. I offered words of encouragement and told him that God knew what he was doing by having us all there for him. We spoke some more and eventually parted ways. As a parting gift, I gave him my number and expressed to him that if he ever needed anything, that I was his lifeline. 

In the minutes after the person was taken away, there was a lot of love being shared by officers, paramedics, firefighters and each other. We came together for a common goal and that was to save a man's life. There is nothing greater than being involved in something that is much larger than yourself. 

In the aftermath and weeks that have followed, I've come to realize that the hurt and sadness that I've harbored following my mother’s death and her experiences with depression actually served a purpose. That purpose was to help that man on the overpass. My life came full circle that day – and in some ways, I was also saved on that overpass.  

If you or a loved one is attempting suicide, please call 911. Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Help Line is available 24/7 for crisis assistance at 704-444-2400 or 800-418-2065.

Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based eight-hour course that teaches attendees how to recognize and respond to signs/symptoms of suicide, mental illness and substance use disorders. Learn more about Atrium Health’s Mental Health First Aid program and register for a class online.