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10 Notable Times The Police Saved Someone’s Life

by Joe Duncan
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The world has seemingly descended into chaos and confusion, as economic woes, political uncertainty, mental illness, and violence grip the world. These are safe and uncertain times, or so it seems, and our first responders, from EMTs to the fire department, are on the front line of dealing with the world’s chaos. When someone needs help, these are often the people they call.

There are plenty of stories and videos of police brutality to go around and plenty of strife between the police and the people they encounter that has been largely politicized. But this list seeks to step out of the highly politicized framework and show these individual men and women who serve their communities, in individual instances where they’ve gone above and beyond the normal call of duty, saving someone’s life. It’s easy to be swept away in the current of political outrage these days and forget the times when people excelled at their task and simply helped someone out in a major way. Here are ten times the police saved someone’s life.

10 Ithaca Crash

On January 3, 2019, a 54-year-old man named Robert P. Gelinas Jr., was traveling in his car down Route 13 in Ithaca, New York, and cut in front of another car while making a left turn. The two cars collided. Gelinas wasn’t wearing his seat belt at the time and was critically wounded.[1]

But Pete Tyler, chief of Ithaca’s police, just happened to be cruising in the area as well when the accident occurred. He parked, exited his vehicle, and ran to the dying man’s side. Tyler administered CPR until the paramedics arrived on the scene and rushed the man to the hospital.

The authorities airlifted Gelinas to the nearby Syracuse Hospital as his life hung in the balance. If it wasn’t for Chief Tyler’s diligence and quick response, as well as a stroke of luck of being in the same place at the same time, Robert Gelinas Jr. likely wouldn’t be alive today. But thanks to a caring police chief, he lives to tell the tale.

9 Papillion, Nebraska

Photo credit: KETV

Tom Reber suffered a heart attack in July 2015 that basically killed him. His heart was not beating for a full ten minutes. Doctors consider it a miracle that he’s alive today, a miracle that took the form of a Papillion police officer who happened to come upon the scene of Reber’s would-be death.[2]

The officer’s name is Frank Matyja, and he immediately sprang into action and began administering CPR, even though Reber was already gone. Unwilling to give up, Matyja kept calling to the man, “Come on, Tom, come on!” as he administered CPR on someone for the first time in his own life.

While Tom doesn’t remember the incident at all, he knows that Matyja happened to be there and saved his life until emergency services could arrive. A little over a month later, the two men met for the first time (for Tom, at least). Tom was extremely thankful for the heroic actions of Officer Frank Matyja, who fearlessly did exactly as he’d been taught, even on a man who no one thought would survive, and saved a life.

8 Bruce McArthur

Photo credit: KTLA

In January 2018, a serial killer was caught. His name was Bruce McArthur, and he would plead guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder on January 29 of the following year.[3] The serial killer murdered eight men between 2010 and 2017 in the Toronto area while working as a landscaper and was actually a former mall Santa. From the time of his arrest until the time of his guilty plea, investigators searched his computer and found eight distinct folders with photos of eight different dead bodies, posed with household items such as fur coats and cigars, as serial killers often do with their victims’ bodies.

There was a ninth victim in the works whom McArthur had his sights set on, but the police saved the man’s life. When officers knocked on McArthur’s door, they found the ninth victim bound, tied to his bed. There was a folder with the kidnapped man’s name on McArthur’s computer. This was going to be the next man who McArthur killed, but a perfectly timed arrest would end up saving the victim from the grips of a bloodthirsty serial killer. Imagine telling that story for the rest of your life.

Bruce McArthur was sentenced to life in prison at age 67, with the possibility of parole in 25 years. If he lives that long and is released, he’ll be 92 years old.

7 Omaha, Nebraska

Photo credit: Nebraska Medicine

In another amazing instance of a life saved by a police officer in Nebraska, a man named John Niemoth suffered a heart attack while driving on May 20, 2017. As the emergency happened, he was quickly approaching an intersection at 132nd and West Dodge in Omaha, and he collided with another vehicle in an accident that would leave three people hospitalized.

Passing by were two people who knew just what to do: Omaha police officer Aaron Gurzick and Megan Steingraber, a nurse. Both were off-duty, but their instincts kicked into action immediately when they saw the smoke from the crash, and they rushed to the scene to help the dying man.[4] John Niemoth had suffered more than just a heart attack; he had sustained broken ribs from the crash.

Steingraber was on her way to a wedding reception but quickly found herself pulling the 67-year-old man from his vehicle in the rain in her bridesmaid’s dress. The two began to administer CPR and save the man’s life. They kept him alive long enough for emergency services to arrive, and one month later, they’d both introduce themselves to the man whose life they’d saved. John Niemoth, who was a paramedic with the fire department, was thankful that two people who knew exactly what to do when tragedy struck just happened to stumble upon the scene.

6 Narcan

Photo credit: WMUR-TV

Narcan is a touchy subject for some and is considered a miracle-worker by others. The drug reverses the effects of opioids in the system, functionally stopping an overdose dead in its tracks. It works within two to five minutes, depending on the route of introduction into the body, and stops the nervous system from shutting down.

In October 2018, Chief Michael LePage of East Kingston, New Hampshire, had recently undergone the appropriate training to use Narcan on people who’d overdosed on opioids. A call came in to emergency services to report that the caller’s roommate was unconscious, and first responders rushed to the scene. Chief LePage managed to get there first and instantly suspected a drug overdose.

His recent training kicked in, and he administered the Narcan to counteract the grave effects of the overdose, saving the woman’s life. This was just another battle in the overarching war that is the opioid epidemic, which claims lives daily. LePage mentioned later that every person on his staff carries Narcan and knows how to use it, effectively making them walking lifesavers.[5] A woman from New Hampshire is alive today thanks to this amazing drug and a police officer who was able to respond quickly and determine the problem at the scene.

5 Flight

Photo credit: WTMJ-TV

On December 17, 2018, an airplane was traveling smoothly through the skies from its takeoff point in Florida to its destination in Chicago. Everything was going as usual until the flight attendants announced to the passengers that someone was having medical problems, asking if anyone on board had any medical training. Two people responded to the call: a nurse and an off-duty police officer named Andrew Mammen.

The flight crew informed him that a woman a few rows up had been having seizures, one after the other, for a total of 17 over the course of the 45 minutes they’d been flying. Mammen and the nurse quickly cleared out some space in the aisle and laid the woman down, asking the flight crew to bring oxygen masks. The woman was not breathing.

Oxygen masks didn’t do the trick, so Mammen, who used to be an EMT, quickly ditched them and took up giving the woman CPR. The pilot made an emergency landing in South Carolina so that paramedics could take the woman to the hospital and treat her. Andrew Mammen saved a woman’s life that day with the help of others.[6]

4 Freezing River

The early morning hours of February 6, 2019, would prove to be forgiving, endowing one man with a second chance at life. It was a tragic scene that night on the Jackson Street Bridge, which crosses the Passaic River in Newark, New Jersey. A man had been on the bridge for several hours as he contemplated plunging to his death. But the police came out and began talking to the man, trying everything they could to convince him not to jump into the freezing river. They failed. The man decided it was his time and jumped into the Passaic.[7]

But that’s not where the story ends. The man hit the water and instantly began trying to swim in the rushing, freezing current. The police sent out a boat and made a dramatic, daring rescue in the cold, sweeping river. They grabbed the man’s arm, the only part of the man’s body they could see, and retrieved him from the current. Thanks to the actions of the police, this man lived to see another day.

3 Shots Fired

One of the more interesting instances of police saving the lives of the people they’re sworn to serve and protect came in July 2017 in Las Vegas. Two officers were out on patrol, and a call came through that there was a nonfatal shooting and a vehicle stolen. They identified a car that matched the stolen vehicle and gave pursuit, but the car refused to stop. Then the vehicle pulled into the driveway of a private home, and a man and woman opened the car’s doors and ran.

Both a home security camera and an officer’s body cam caught the amazing incident on video. As the man and woman fled and tried to cut through the home’s backyard, police give chase. Then the man drew a firearm and began to shoot at them. The two officers drew their weapons and fired a total of 26 shots, hitting both the man and the woman.[8] The man was struck by 19 bullets, the woman was hit once in the arm, and both lay bleeding on the pavement.

The officers approached the wounded couple with guns raised. It soon became obvious that the threat was under control and that the man was bleeding out. Thinking quickly, the officer who’d fired the most and taken the lead rushed to the wounded man, who was spouting blood everywhere, and used a makeshift tourniquet to tie off the perperator’s profusely bleeding leg. Though shot 19 times, the man would end up surviving the incident, thanks to an officer who didn’t let the fact that the man had just shot at him get in the way of his duty to save lives.

2 Folsom Crash

Deputy Jaie Sacco of the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department was cruising down the road in January 2019 when he saw a crash take place a few hundred yards away from him. He was off-duty, but he immediately went to assess the damage and see if he could be of service.[9] The car’s metal frame had been crushed and was “crumpled up,” as the officers later described it.

Deputy Sacco ran up to the vehicle to try to retrieve the persons inside, but no one was there. Nearby, he spotted the driver, who’d been thrown from the vehicle, lying motionless, clinging to life. Sacco instantly began to administer CPR when Jennifer McCue, an off-duty Elk Grove police officer, arrived on the scene and began to assist him. They managed to keep the woman alive until rescuers could take her to the hospital. Here was yet another case of police going above and beyond the call of duty, using their knowledge and training to save lives, as countless officers do in the field every day.

1 San Francisco

The place was the San Francisco International Airport, and the time was 7:06 AM on December 19, 2018. Sergeant Bobby Cheung was notified of a woman who was found in the airport unresponsive. When he approached the woman, he noticed that she was an employee and immediately began doing what he was trained to do. He discovered that she didn’t have a pulse.[10]

Immediately, he called for an automated external defibrillator, or AED, and began to administer CPR to the unresponsive woman. Several other officers arrived and began taking turns with the AED until the woman finally blinked her eyes and then squeezed the hand of one of the officers on the scene. She began to come back to life. The 38-year-old woman survived her near-death and lived to tell about it, all thanks to officers doing what they were trained to do when a crisis hits.

fact checked by Jamie Frater