NEWELL, W.Va. - A woman who jumped off the Newell Bridge in an apparent suicide attempt early Saturday morning was rescued thanks to the alert actions of a longtime bridge employee, law enforcement and first-responders.
The woman, identified as Cynthia Boyce, 55, of East Liverpool, leaped from the bridge railing into the cold waters of the Ohio River shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday, witnesses said.
"I seen her jump," said Eugene "Gene" Simmons Jr., who works nights in the toll bridge booth. "That upset me real bad."
She was pulled out within a half hour's time by Newell volunteer firefighters, with assistance from East Liverpool police officers and Hancock County sheriff's deputies.
Newell assistant fire Chief Tim Steele said the woman was showing signs of going into hypothermic shock.
"She was treading water. She was very tired when we got to her," said Steele, who was in the rescue boat with two other firefighters. "She was talking, but not too good."
Steele said firefighters were able to make the rescue with the help of police officers on the shoreline who were shining their flashlights into the dark, moving waters. "They helped us a lot," he said.
Simmons, a 16-year employee of the Newell Bridge & Railway Co., said he reported the jumping incident after talking to the woman and becoming suspicious of her intentions.
Simmons, 79, of East Liverpool, said he was working in the toll booth alone at 3:40 a.m. Saturday when Boyce approached him about crossing the bridge on foot.
"I said, 'We don't charge you for walking across,'" he said.
The two talked briefly and then Boyce went on her way, Simmons said.
"She talked normal. She just said, 'I don't have any money,'" he said. "I said, 'Be careful.'"
But Simmons became suspicious when he noticed the woman was wearing only a sweatshirt but no coat. "That was a red flag to me," he said. Temperatures early Saturday morning were in the 20s.
As the woman began walking on the bridge, Simmons noticed her looking, then leaning, over the side. When she reached the 20 mph speed limit sign, he decided to call security personnel with the Homer Laughlin China Co., which operates the private toll bridge.
"I called security and said, 'You better call somebody because somebody's fixin' to jump,'" he said.
At about the same time, another woman inquired of Simmons about Boyce, he said. They both came from the direction of East Liverpool City Hospital, leading Simmons to speculate that the jumper had just come from the emergency room.
"She wasn't wearing a (hospital) wrist band," he said.
Simmons said the second woman was upset and said she had just called police. An East Liverpool K-9 unit was on the scene within minutes, he said.
"I congratulate them. They was on the ball," he said.
During the rescue effort, officials tried to keep the woman calm. "They were talking to her in the water, telling her, 'Hold on. Don't give up. The boat's on its way,' " Simmons said.
Simmons said he prayed for the woman, even as he wondered about what would cause a person to jump.
"I hope I never see another one," he said.
Boyce was taken by the Chester-Newell Ambulance Service to East Liverpool City Hospital, said Dezso Polgar, director of operations.