Tennessee Deputy talks suicidal teen off bridge ledge

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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Williamson County Deputy is being hailed a hero after convincing a suicidal 18-year-old to step back from the ledge of the Natchez Trace Bridge.

According to the Williamson County Sheriff Dusty Rhoades, there have been 32 suicides from the Natchez Trace Bridge.

On Monday morning at 4 a.m., an 18-year-old boy was standing on the ledge, 150 feet above the road below. He called 911 from his own cell phone.

Thankfully deputy Adrian Finch was close by and used a compassionate tone to talk the young man off the ledge.

The deputy was wearing a body cam and the emotional exchange was captured on camera.

The young man was named Zack. He was in black, but on video you can see that he is on the outside of the 32-inch rail, standing on the narrow ledge, his back to the ground. He sounds unsure of why he is there and even tells deputies later he is not clear how he got to the bridge and he doesn’t remember stepping over the rail.

“I’m just nervous as hell,” Zack says.

“I understand Zack. I’m nervous too,” the deputy responds.

“What the hell am I doing here?” Zack says at one point.

“Zack, I don’t understand,” the deputy says offering his hand to the teen.

After many tense moments, the young man carefully reaches down, grabs the rail, and steps on to the bridge.

You can hear Deputy finch assure the young man that everything is ok, as the 18-year-old begins to cry emotionally.

Deputy says, “You’re all right. It’s good. You are ok.”

Zack cries, “Why the hell am I out here?”

The deputy responds, “I’m here to help you.”

Trish Merelo’s son jumped from this bridge in 2016. She calls the deputy’s heroic act terrific.

“I feel for the deputies, it takes its toll on them more than anyone else.”

Since her son’s suicide, Merelo has formed the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition.

“Suicide can be the result of careful planning or an impulsive act and those acting impulsively go for what is easy and certain and accessible and that is what that bridge is.”

The group’s mission is to raise the rails from 32 inches to something much more difficult to step over.

“I would love to see something eight feet tall. It can be done aesthetically. We are not looking for a cage. We know there are elegant things that can be done. I’m looking at eight feet slats, vertical, some type, where the view is still there, but it is not that scalable.”

Merelo says the Bridge, controlled by the National Parks Service, was never meant to be a walking bridge and she says the 32-inch rails on the 150-foot structure constitute a codes violation.

Merelo says she enlisted the help of powerful Washington Diplomats who quickly came to her aid.

“A year ago we got Senator Lamar Alexander, and Congressman Mark Green, and the state to put together a resolution that the bridge is a hazard.”

Merelo says with the help of the legislators and others, $1.25 million has been raised through the National Highway Administration to get the ball rolling toward construction.

Merelo says the project may not be completed for another four years, but she is optimistic.

Meanwhile, Williamson County Sheriff Dusty Rhoades says his deputies acted heroically.

“He doesn’t remember how he got to the bridge or even going to the bridge. Adrian did a great job, he was there to help. I cannot tell you the number we’ve talked off the bridge, it is, unfortunately, becoming more common.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Aaron Nolan is a morning show co-host in Little Rock, Arkansas with Nexstar Media Group's KARK-TV. He has a passion for social media and makes it an important part of his daily routine. Click here to read Aaron's full bio.

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