Chance encounter saves veteran on Austin bridge

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • OSI Public Affairs

The last thing Office of Special Investigations special agents from the polygraph program expected to find while on a lunch break was someone contemplating suicide.

But, that was the reality facing the group, as they were walking across the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, during a break in their annual training while on temporary duty Aug. 16.     

To give the encounter some context, the structure, named after the 45th Governor of Texas, spans 946 feet and is 446 feet above the waterline of the Colorado River, from which Lady Bird Lake is impounded.    

While crossing the bridge, SA Joe Dvorak, 3rd Field Investigations Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, noticed a man sitting on the bridge’s handrail facing the river below. 

It appeared the man was contemplating hurting himself by jumping off the bridge into the water below. 

“I remarked to SA (Jorelle) Griffie, (also from the 3 FIS) that the man on the bridge looked like he was thinking of jumping, and said we should check on him,” SA Dvorak recalled. “SA Griffie immediately agreed as we approached the troubled man.” 

SA Dvorak asked the individual if he was okay. He simply said “no.” 

Seeing and hearing the response, the two special agents asked if they could offer any help. 

The individual said he was suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and recently lost someone. The individual had a military style haircut and military style tattoos. SA Griffie asked if he had served and deployed. The individual said he served as a Marine in Iraq.

“Our (OSI) interview training helped me read his body language and approach him,” SA Dvorak said. “SA Griffie then took over after my initial approach. I heard him building rapport with the troubled veteran, so I backed off and called the Austin Police Department, without alerting the veteran.” 

SA Griffie continued to speak to the vet as much as possible, including talking about his own tours in Iraq, and how he also had a family member who was a Marine.

SA Griffie told the veteran that people cared for him, needed him, relied upon him and that he didn’t want to do what he appeared to be contemplating. SA Griffie asked the veteran his name, which caused him to look at SA Griffie instead of the river below. SA Griffie used the vet’s name and said he needed him on this side of the handrail and kindly asked him to climb down and go grab a cup of coffee.

The veteran slowly climbed off the hand rail, but was reluctant to leave the bridge. SA Griffie kept up his conversation until the Austin Police arrived, stepped in and began engaging the veteran. SA Griffie then disengaged, and with other special agents, directed foot traffic around the officer until his backup arrived to successfully resolve the situation. The veteran was safe. 

SA Dvorak reflected on the 15 minute encounter.

“It was gratifying to use our training to help save the life of a fellow veteran,” he said. “I was extremely proud of SA Griffie, watching him console the individual. When I saw the man swing his legs from the water side of the railing to the sidewalk, I was grinning from ear to ear with respect for my friend.” 

Leadership lauded their actions.

“It’s great news to hear the team is doing exceptional things both in and out of the poly booth,” said Lt. Col. Carl Hanauer, 3 FIS Commander. “Our poly team always seems to be right where they are needed, when they are needed!”

“I swell with pride to be teammates with these professionals,” said SA William Anglin, 3 FIS Deputy Director.