Winter Haven crisis negotiator talks woman off ledge

Evan Axelbank reports

- Winter Haven Police Inspector Steve Rusich's cell phone rang Monday morning. A 45-year-old woman was on a ledge, 13-stories up and that meant it was time for him to go to work.

"The first thing I did was say a prayer," Inspc. Rusich told FOX 13 News.

Rusich is a trained crisis negotiator. He says he was just doing his job, but his job was to save a life, and he was successful.

Rusich drove the mile-and-a-half from the police station to the apartment building along Winter Haven's Lake Howard.

"I told myself that this other person's life was the most important thing to me at the time," he recalled.

Rusich would be the police department's lead on this case.

"I was able to open a window, and try to catch her attention," he said. "She had headphones on with music playing."

When she saw him, she dangled a foot over the ledge.

"If I scared her in any way, the ledge wasn't very wide," he said. "That's what I was worried about... I just had to show her I meant no harm."

The woman told Rusich her dad died a few months ago, and her mother passed just a day before.

"She told me that no one cared, [that] her life wasn't worth living anymore," Rusich said.

They talked for between 15 and 20 minutes, near the top of the second-tallest building in Winter Haven. There was one thing he reminded her of, again and again.

"I had to reassure her [that] I cared. I was here now, and I am the one who cares," he said. "My heart was beating out of my chest."

It was his fifth crisis negotiation in a 14-year career.

"I just kept calling her name out," he said. "Eventually she turned to me and looked at me and said, 'I really don't want to die.' I just held my hand out, and she grabbed it."

It was his fifth successful crisis negotiation.

"She basically just grabbed me, hugged me and cried," he said.

Rusich says he will stay in touch with the woman whose life is now ahead of her, thanks to his actions.

"I hope she finds the help she needs," he said. "She is grieving with very little family to help her grieve."

Now she will always have a friend. Amazingly, Rusich said he almost didn't come to work that day.

"I had just had a very long drive home from family in Louisiana the night before. I contemplated calling and asking for the day off. I decided against it," he said.

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