AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — On Aug. 31, Auburn University student April Dixon parked her car, donned a pair of sunglasses and walked through the darkness to the ledge of an Interstate 85 overpass near exit 51. State Trooper Cpl. Jackie Hamby was working an intersection on the south side of the bridge when he got the call.
"I immediately turned and noticed her with one leg over the side," he remembered. "All I could tell was that it was a person."
Hamby sent Trooper James Williams to distract Dixon, while the Auburn Police Division's Sgt. Willie Sanford pulled her off the ledge.
"She was very frantic, crying. And still trying to make an attempt to get up to the edge of the bridge," Hamby said. "These two guys are the real ones that ought to be recognized... because they're the ones that actually saved April from the bridge."
But Dixon credits Hamby and his calm demeanor with saving her from more than the overpass.
"What was different about him was he was very calm," Dixon said. "To me, that was saying something by itself. Just how calm he was. He was trying to help me."
Dixon, 29, an Atlanta resident and Huntsville native, suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that has features resembling both schizophrenia and mood disorders. She often experiences severe pain due to rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type one diabetes and thyroid disease. Dixon said the combination of mental illness and physical pain left her thinking the world was ending.
"It was very strange to me. And I told Trooper Hamby this, it was like I knew that suicide wasn't the answer. But when I got in my car to go to Interstate 85, it was like I literally could not stop myself from trying to jump off the bridge. I still can't explain it," she said.
Once she was safely off the bridge, Hamby spoke with Dixon and gave her his personal cell phone number. They coaxed her into an ambulance headed for East Alabama Medical Center, and called her mother in Atlanta.
"I just simply spoke to her. I wasn't the one that laid hands on her, so I could relate to her differently than the other officers could," Hamby said. "Immediately we had a connection. There's no doubt there."
After she was released from EAMC, Dixon returned to school to study English and creative writing. It took a few months for the shock of her suicide attempt to wear off, but she finished the semester with a 3.0 GPA. She visits the counseling center at the Auburn University Medical Clinic and finds a positive outlet in writing poetry.
Dixon and Hamby keep in touch, and she has even visited his church, Beauregard Revival Center.
"I feel that he's a true Christian.. He really cares about the Auburn/ Opelika community, trying to help young people," Dixon said, adding his church has also supported her over the last several months.
She said his demeanor is present in each of her conversations with him.
"She's had some rough days and called me. And she's had some days that were just awesome and she wanted somebody to hear and to listen. I think that's the whole key to it. Just having somebody willing to listen," Hamby said.
Dixon was on the phone with an Atlanta-based suicide hotline as she walked to the edge of the overpass. She said she has had suicide attempts before, but knows she will not again.
"(This experience) made me realize that that needs to be something that's in my past that I need to leave behind," she said. "Never do anything, make a rash decision, a major decision, when you're upset. (Hamby) told me that that night. And ever since he told me that, from now on, when I make decisions, I always go by what Trooper Hamby said."
Dixon wants to use the experience to help others going through a tough time.
"I want to try to help other people with mental illnesses" she said. "Not only people with mental illness, but people that are just going through something that they think 'There's no way to get out of this.'" Sgt. Steve Jarrett, of the Alabama State Troopers, said stories like Dixon and Hamby's are often overlooked.
"People think all we do is write speeding tickets. But we do so much more, and this is just a prime example. This doesn't happen very often, but it does happen," he said. "Often, the good things that we do go unnoticed. Our primary mission out there is highway safety and basically be good stewards of the state of Alabama."
In his 17 years as a state trooper, Hamby said he has made several special connections. For Hamby, the honor is not in the recognition, but in the small, personal displays of sincere gratitude.
"The phone call afterward that she was doing so well and she appreciated what everybody had done for her. That to me, is more than enough," he said. "Times like that, it makes me realize I have one of the best jobs in the state."
Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, http://www.oanow.com/