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Police intuition prevails in close call with train

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By Eric Stevick
Herald Writer
  • Monroe police Sgt. Rick Dunn.

    Courtesy Photo

    Monroe police Sgt. Rick Dunn.

MONROE -- The man on the tracks wouldn't budge.
He'd sent a text to his Monroe roommate on the afternoon of June 24, telling her that he was going to end his life by throwing himself in front of a train.
He gave no location.
Monroe police Sgt. Rick Dunn was less than a half hour into his shift when the 911 call came in around 3:20 p.m.
Dispatchers contacted a cellphone company to try to track the location by using cell towers to pinpoint the spot.
Dunn called the roommate after reviewing a dispatcher's report. Other officers approached different intersections of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line where trains cross east and west through Monroe roughly two dozen times a day.
Dunn asked the woman questions, hoping she could provide some inkling of where her friend might be.
Based on the conversation and a hunch, Dunn drove down Kelsey Street and peered down the same stretch of railroad grade he'd looked at thousands of times before in his two decades with the Monroe Police Department.
On this day, something appeared amiss.
He drove to Highway 2 and 179th Avenue SE for a closer inspection before pulling over to the curb.
He'd spotted a burly man in a pair of shorts sitting on a railroad tie about 60 feet east of 179th Avenue.
Dunn got out and tried to talk to him.
The man, 37, was resolute.
"I'm done," he said.
During the conversation, the broad-shouldered figure planted himself in the middle of the north tracks used by eastbound trains. Dunn persisted with his coaxing, even as he heard the warning bells of the crossing signal arms dropping on 179th Avenue to stop car traffic.
Dunn also followed his training. He'd approached cautiously, taking cover behind a large metal control box about 20 feet away until he convinced the man to empty his pockets and show his hands.
As the train drew closer, Dunn's backup had not arrived.
Time was running out.
He had to make a decision.
Dunn tried to grab the man and wrestle him to the ground and away from the tracks.
The problem was the sturdy man had big arms, was sweating heavily and outweighed Dunn by 150 pounds. He also had no hair to yank.
"It wasn't very graceful and pretty," Dunn recalled. "He just fought on the track.
"At one point, when he was spinning, I could see the train and I could not believe how fast it was moving from where it last was."
As the train drew near, Dunn made a final desperate lunge.
"I just hit him high so we could clear the tracks," Dunn said.
The pair tumbled down a small embankment just before the train reached them.
"It was deafening from where we were," the sergeant said.
Other officers arrived in time to see the train passing by.
Only after it flew by did they find Dunn and the man alive and well on the other side.
Dunn had the man restrained, but needed a second set of handcuffs to take him into custody.
They walked the man to Valley General Hospital emergency room nearby for medical attention.
At 3:37 p.m., the cellphone company called dispatchers with a location. That was the very moment the train was passing the spot.
In this case, an officer's experience and intuition trumped modern-day technology.
"Had it not been for the extraordinary efforts of Sgt. Dunn, the outcome of this incident would've been tragic," Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.
The man, facing medical and financial problems, later apologized and thanked Dunn for saving his life.
Dunn called the man's roommate who joined them at the hospital. He thanked her for caring enough to call.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,
Story tags » MonroePolice

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