Trooper James H. Boyd
Pennsylvania State Police
Washington, DC—The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of Trooper James H. Boyd of the Pennsylvania State Police as its Officer of the Month for October 2005.
Pittsburgh is known for many things; its busy port, its sports teams, and of course, its rivers and bridges. With more than 1,700 bridges in Allegheny County, 730 of them are within the Pittsburgh city limits. Tourists and residents alike marvel at the bridges’ magnificence as they go about their routine of walking, riding, running, and driving across them. Unfortunately, the heights of these bridges in conjunction with the extreme currents of the rivers often lure individuals who believe suicide is their only option. Each year approximately a dozen people select one of the bridges as a venue at which to take their own lives; fifty percent of those succeed.
A trooper with the Pennsylvania State Police for the past 14 years, Trooper James Boyd has come to know the Pittsburgh bridges quite well. Yet, even still, nothing could have ever prepared him for what took place the afternoon of May 16, 2005. Just past noon Trooper Boyd was on patrol heading south across the Smithfield Street Bridge. From the corner of his eye he caught sight of a woman sitting on the railing of the bridge while another woman held her by her leg. Immediately Boyd exited his police cruiser and as he approached them, the woman took notice and swung her legs over the railing. At breakneck speed, Trooper Boyd ran to the railing only to see the young woman jump toward the waters below.
Lunging toward the rail, Trooper Boyd was miraculously able to grab the woman’s arm and struggled not to lose his grip. As if grabbing the woman in mid-air was not enough he needed to hold on to her as she screamed and wiggled trying to free from his hold.
The danger escalated as Trooper Boyd, bent over the railing at his waist, realized that not only could he lose his grip on the woman’s arm, but there was a very good chance that she could pull him with her over the rail into the river. His arms aching, Trooper Boyd braced himself against rails with his feet trying to maintain his balance while wishing that she would stop twisting and fighting his efforts to save her.
Amazingly, more than a dozen people walked right past Trooper Boyd and the dangling woman without anyone offering assistance. Finally, hearing the commotion up on the bridge, Detective Sergeant William Wagner, a plainclothes officer with the Allegheny County Port Authority Police Department rushed to Trooper Boyd’s side. Not knowing that Sergeant Wagner was a police officer, Trooper Boyd was grateful for the assistance from someone he thought to be passerby. Together, with the combined strength, the two were able to pull the woman back onto the bridge. Once the three were out of danger, Sergeant Wagner slapped handcuffs on the subdued woman, quietly identifying himself as a fellow law enforcement professional to Trooper Boyd.
A few months after the ordeal, Trooper Boyd received a short handwritten note. It was a letter from the suicidal 20-year-old woman whose life Trooper Boyd had saved. She wrote that although she had wanted to take her own life that day in May, she now understood she had a lot to live for and was so grateful that Trooper Boyd was there to intervene.
Trooper Boyd’s supervisor, Corporal Joseph Glover, said the trooper’s act was unprecedented and “extraordinary.” For his efforts that fateful day, Trooper James H. Boyd was awarded the Pennsylvania Medal of Honor, the department’s highest award and was subsequently honored by the Pittsburgh City Council and the Pennsylvania State Senate. He remains in service with the Pennsylvania State Police in the Pittsburgh area and is a member of the department’s motorcycle detail and ceremonial unit.
Afterward Trooper Boyd was barraged with questions from the media. He explained that reacting to unexpected situations, thinking on your feet and making split-second decisions is all part of the job, but stated, “I don’t want to do anything like that again.” Still, even after all the media attention and the accolades, Trooper Boyd contends, “I was doing my job — what any other law enforcement officer would have done that day.”
The Police Unity Tour is the official sponsor of the Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month Program.