Retired firefighter honored for saving suicidal woman

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The Oregonian

PORTLAND, Ore. — Randy Leonard figured his emergency-responder days were long behind him when he retired from the Portland Fire Bureau 12 years ago upon his election to the City Council.

But Leonard, reached back into his old firefighter training last month, thinking clearly and acting decisively when he stopped a woman from jumping off a Lake Oswego bridge.

For his efforts, Leonard was honored in ceremonies Monday by Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson and Fire Chief Ed Wilson. Both presented him with a Chief's Challenge Coin to show their appreciation.

"It was pretty courageous on his part to stop and get involved," Johnson said. "Not everybody would have done that."

Leonard said he was driving from his home in West Linn shortly after 5 p.m. June 23 to Northwest Portland, where he was scheduled to speak to a Willamette University graduate class in management. When he reached the Oregon 43 bridge over Oswego Creek, he saw a woman perched on the railing, with her legs dangling over the side, about 75 feet above the rocks.

"I had to stop at the light there," said Leonard, 61, now retired. "That's when I looked in the rear-view mirror and realized she was staring down. Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks: She was getting ready to jump."

Leonard flipped on his four-way flashers and made an abrupt U-turn on the bridge, then sprinted to the bridge railing, where the woman was poised to push off.

"I ran up and grabbed her around the waist and held her arms as tight as I could," Leonard said. "She was yelling, 'Let me go. Let me go.' But I said, 'I'm not going to let you go.' "

Soon, a man stopped his pickup and helped Leonard pull the woman to safety. Leonard continued to hold the woman until police and firefighters arrived to take over.

That's when Leonard dug even deeper, pulling out first-hand experience with personal tragedy to connect with the woman. Leonard's 31-year-old daughter, Kara, committed suicide in 2011, losing her long struggle with drug addiction and depression.

"I told the woman, 'My daughter killed herself three years ago — and that's not what you want to do. You will not only hurt your family but make them angry at you,' " Leonard said.

On Monday, while Johnson and Wilson conducted the awards ceremony at Lake Oswego's George Rogers Park, Leonard noticed that the woman was standing away, watching the proceedings from a distance. After the crowd left, Leonard and the woman spoke.

"She said she was doing better now," Leonard said. "She said what I told her about my daughter's death really helped her. To hear that was my real reward out of all of this."

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