Pregnant woman’s split-second heroics prevented suicide attempt on Granville bridge

Everyday citizens honoured for heroism at annual police awards

If Emilie Stevens had left work on time one day last June things could have turned out differently.

Stevens, a physician, was walking from St. Paul’s Hospital to her home near Vancouver General Hospital. Her route took her over the Granville Street Bridge and on this day she had left work later than usual, she said.

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Seven months pregnant at the time, Stevens said she was still making the walk to and from work.

“I was trying to do it a couple times a week just to stay active during my pregnancy but I left work late that day probably by an hour or two,” she says.

She walked past a woman who was sitting on the sidewalk with her back towards the railing. Stevens thought it was a bit strange but initially walked past the woman. Everyone else was. But something made Stevens stop and turn around.

“I walked back after I walked past her and at that point she was standing on the bottom rung and then I realized what was happening. I went back and I went to talk to her,” she says.

Stevens started talking to the woman who told her she had just discharged herself from hospital and had taken a large quantity of psychiatric medication.

“I knew immediately that she was contemplating suicide.”

Stevens said she tried to talk the woman into walking off the bridge with her but after a few minutes and no success she called 911. But when the woman saw the police car approaching and went to jump, Stevens had to spring into action.

“I don’t remember doing it. I just grabbed her and held on and luckily [the police] were fairly close,” she remembers.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know if it is something that every pregnant woman would do, putting themselves in that situation but I just couldn’t walk away.”

Stevens’ actions that day were honoured March 1 as she was one a several Vancouverites awarded a police board Award of Merit at the 2018 Vancouver Police Department Commendation Ceremony. Her five-month-old daughter Lily Coe accompanied her mother, and stole the spotlight, as Stevens accepted her award from Chief Adam Palmer and Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Lt.-Gov. Judy Guichon was also on hand for the event.

“You are the action people,” Guichon said. “The rest of us can talk, debate and pontificate, but when it is all said and done, you are the ones that take the action. You pick up the pieces and you cope with the realities out there in the everyday world.”

Stevens was among six members of the public to receive an award for acting in the face of real or anticipated danger to save a life or assisting the police in preventing a crime or apprehending an offender.

“Today, as we’re standing here on this Thursday, we’ll answer about 700 calls for service here in Vancouver,” Police Chief Adam Palmer said. “It’s easy in a free society and a safe city like Vancouver to sometimes take that for granted but I can say that I’m proud of each and every member of the Vancouver Police Department, sworn and civilian, for their dedication and commitment.”  

Other award of merit recipients included:

-          Susan Chambers and Charlotte Tardits were at English Bay in May 2017 when they noticed a woman 50 metres off shore in distress. Both women swam in to save her life.

-          Gary Sandhu stepped in front of the man who had just robbed a jewellery salesman causing the thief to drop a bag containing $300,000 worth of jewelry. He was also able to provide useful information to officers.

-           Max Rathburn and Nicholas Shaw sprang into action to stop an attack on an elderly woman, pursuing the assailant and holding him until police arrived.

Sgt. Peter Sadler received Police Officer of the Year and Jimmy Hnam was named Civilian of the Year. Sadler’s 35-year career now finds him focusing almost exclusively on fentanyl and those in mid-and street-level tracking circles. He initiated and supervised 27 operations in the Downtown Eastside in the three years spanning 2014 to 2107.

Hnam’s 16-year tenure with the VPD has seen him become one the department’s go-to IT guys. He’s developed databases and records management systems and became increasingly focused on mental health initiatives in 2013.

Since then Hnam has created an early warning system to track people living with mental illness who are most at risk to cause harm to themselves or others. He also created a template to capture the amount of patrol calls with a mental health component, which helps the department allocate resources and responses to those calls.

Long-time volunteer Danny Gelmon was awarded the Jim and Vicki Chu Community Safety Leader Award.

Gelmon began volunteering with the Vancouver Police Department in the 1980s when he filmed the department’s motorcycle drill team performing at the PNE. He went on to join Citizen’s Crime Watch and since 1993 he has been involved in the recovery of 4,645 stolen vehicles. As well, as a volunteer with the VPD’s auto crime enforcement unit he deployed more than 1,600 bait cars and spent thousands of hours volunteering.

In 2010 Gelmon started volunteering with the Granville Community Policing Centre and in 2015 became part-time coordinator. Over the years he has led, mentored and inspired more than 80 volunteers and has contributed to making improvements to the productivity of the centre.

He also volunteers with ICBC, particularly with the Speed Watch program and auto crime patrols. And as part of the city’s Keep Vancouver Spectacular Program he collects more than 3,000 cigarette butts and 29 bags of litter each week.

@JessicaEKerr

jkerr@vancourier.com

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