It might have been the hand of God that initially snagged a wanted man who had jumped over the edge of the Mystic/Tobin Bridge on Aug. 8, 2014, but it was Chelsea Police Officer Paul McCarthy who carried out the rest of the daring and brave rescue and arrest of that man.
“I looked over the edge and saw him suspended over the green water so far below,” recalled McCarthy. “It was like the hand of God was there just holding him. I was waiting for a splash when I looked over, but there he was on that construction fence. If they hadn’t been working on the Bridge he would have died no doubt about it. When he came to and started to move towards the edge of the fence to finish going over, I knew I had to do something. To think about it afterward, it was kind of crazy. It was a gut reaction and it worked out well. Even though he was a wanted man, he was still a human being and I couldn’t let him kill himself. I couldn’t watch him do it.”
McCarthy, 49 and a 10 year veteran of the CPD, eventually saved and arrested the Malden man that day, and for his extreme bravery and for risking his life, he was awarded George L. Hanna Medal of Valor at the State House on Tuesday morning – one of only six officers to receive the award this year.
“It’s the crowning achievement of my career,” he said after being awarded the medal on the House floor by Gov. Charlie Baker. “I have three lifesaving medals in the department prior, but this is the largest award you can get. As a law enforcement professional, it’s the crowning achievement. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my other officers.”
Several officers, Chief Brian Kyes and City Manager Tom Ambrosino attended the poignant ceremony on Beacon Hill Tuesday morning.
“I think it’s a tremendous award for him and the department,” said Ambrosino. “It reflects well on the City and the Police Department.”
On Aug. 8, 2014, McCarthy said a call came over the radio that a man in Malden had attempted to murder his wife and was fleeing towards Chelsea. Shortly after, it was reported he was seen near the Market Basket. McCarthy and another officer located the car and it fled up to the upper deck of the Bridge.
McCarthy and his partner were able to chase the man onto the Bridge and block him in so that he could go no further.
“He jumped out of the car with the knife in his hand,” said McCarthy. “He realized that he had nowhere to go, so he ran and jumped over the side of the Bridge. I went over and looked and expected to see him in the water, but he was stuck on the fence.”
Work crews had been repairing the Bridge all summer, and while they repaired the underside of the bridge, a very minimal chain link fence had been installed under the bridge to catch tools that fell from workers’s hands. The fence wasn’t meant to hold the weight of a human being, but it proved strong enough to have snagged the wanted man.
The man had hit a steel beam on the bridge and was unconscious in the net. He was also seriously injured and had a severely broken leg. Both officers radioed for help and were content to wait it out until fire crews arrived from Chelsea and Boston to rescue the unconscious man.
However, as they waited, the man came to and began to slowly move to the edge of the fence in order to continue the suicide jump.
“He wasn’t moving quickly because he was injured, but he was pulling himself to the edge to go over,” said McCarthy. “I couldn’t just watch him kill himself without doing something.”
McCarthy had to first get to the lower deck and there was no easy way.
A worker told him that sometimes they use the “45 degree” to get down quickly.
Not knowing what that meant, he asked the worker to lead the way.
The “45-degree” ended up being an angled beam of the bridge that ran from upper to lower deck, and for which McCarthy slid down without a harness or any protective gear – just sliding down a 45-degree beam hundreds of feet above the water and one slip away from certain death.
“I came over looking for a ladder and realized soon what he was talking about,” said McCarthy. “I slid down and followed him and, looking back, I didn’t even think about it.”
From there, his only choice to get to the man was to jump off the side of the lower deck onto the frail fence.
“As I jumped, my initial thought was ‘Please just let the fence hold me,’” said McCarthy. “Looking back, I question whether I had time to think about it and all the risk and all the things that could have gone wrong. In the heat of the moment, I couldn’t let him kill himself. I had to do what was right. Occasionally, now, I’ll look up at the Bridge and how high it is and wonder how I did it. When you think about how high it is, you wonder if you would do it again.”
After getting down to the fence successfully, McCarthy engaged in a brief struggle with the suspect, but was easily able to handcuff him. Due to his injuries, he wasn’t able to put up much of a fight.
However, the ordeal wasn’t nearly over.
Hanging hundreds of feet over the water and on a uncertain fence, McCarthy and the suspect had to hang in the balance for two hours while crews struggled to figure out a way to bring the men to safety.
“We just sat there quietly for a long time,” said McCarthy. “Originally, he was trying to fight me, but once I handcuffed him, he was compliant. I just held on to him. I was talking to him and telling him that whatever happened in Malden was in Malden; that I was there now and there for him. He went from being the bad guy at that point to the victim. We talked for a long time about the whole back story with him and his wife. He was very upset.”
Eventually crews did bring the two men to safety, and McCarthy said he has no idea what happened to the man or what the resolution was on his case.
What he does know is that being a p
olice officer brings one in contact with the wildest and most daring situations.
“You can sit there and have a nice, quiet breakfast in the morning and don’t expect much to happen and then an hour later you’re hanging off the Tobin Bridge,” he said. “That’s what happened. You never know what will happen when you report to work.”