Deputy Chad Davis tanked up his patrol car Sunday morning, thinking it might be the start of a slow day – and he could use one. Sundays can run either way.
Deputy Josh Yates was taking inventory of the SWAT gear at the York County Sheriff’s Office District III office in the old National Guard armory on South Cherry Road. He, too, was thinking this might be an easy Sunday.
Before breakfast, these partners would save not one life, but two.
“Doesn’t happen every day,” conceded Davis, 43, who has worked 17 years as a cop – eight of them in York County.
The urgent radio call came in at about 8:30 a.m.: A woman, seven months pregnant, was trying to hang herself behind a home on Holland Road southwest of Rock Hill.
Davis sped off from the county gas pumps near Heckle Boulevard and Cherry Road at Code 3 – blue lights and siren, driving over the speed limit – and rushed the two miles or so toward Holland Road.
“The call came out that she had attempted to hang herself, tried once with a belt,” Davis said, “and that she was outside and trying again with a chain.”
Davis pushed the police cruiser, and his mind raced faster than the car.
Yates, meanwhile, could not just rush away from the SWAT locker, leaving all kinds of weapons unlocked. He knew he had to take precious seconds to close and secure the door. Those seconds seemed like hours to the 30-year-old, eight-year veteran.
Davis, a trained member of the sheriff’s office hostage negotiator team, arrived first.
“I pulled up and I could see her on the bottom step of the ladder,” he said. “She had a chain around her neck, like a choker chain for a dog.”
Davis called out to the woman as he ran, “Stop!”
But she didn’t. Instead, she climbed the ladder and threw the chain over a tree limb.
“I picked up the pace and ran faster toward her,” Davis said. “All the time I am thinking, ‘What am I gonna do?’ ”
By the time Davis skidded to a stop at the foot of the ladder, the woman was at the top, a good eight feet off the ground. One end of the chain was wrapped around her neck, the other around the tree limb.
“You don’t want to do this,” Davis told her. “There are people who love you and care about you.”
But the woman was intent on hurting herself, Davis said, so he did the only thing he could think to do — he grabbed the woman and the ladder in a giant bear hug.
“She was trying to kick off the ladder, trying to kick free,” Davis said. “All the time I was telling her that people care about her, don’t do this – for herself and her family.”
But the woman was distraught, Davis said, and the cheap metal ladder started to bend under the weight of the woman and the force of the struggle.
Davis held the woman up with his left arm and used his right arm to keep hold of her legs and the ladder. Seconds stretched to a minute. A minute became two.
The muscles in Davis’ arms screamed and his legs buckled, but he held firm and did not falter.
Still, Davis – a big, strapping guy at about 6 feet 3 inches tall, 240 pounds – was thinking to himself that, even as strong as he is, he was running out of strength – and the woman was running out of time.
Bouyed by his faith in God, Davis said, he found the will not to give up.
“The Lord was with me,” he said. “There is no doubt.”
Still struggling to hold on and keep the woman from plunging off the ladder, Davis managed to slip his right hand free and reach the radio transmitter on his shirt. He called for Yates, saying he needed his partner and friend faster than fast.
“I was, like, in a Statue of Liberty stance,” Davis said. “I was milked. I couldn’t feel my arms anymore. I was hanging on for dear life.
“I could hear his siren coming. That siren meant help.”
The ladder creaked and started to fail. No way Davis could hold this woman off the ground any longer.
Throughout it all, he kept pleading with the woman not to swing free and end her life.
Finally, his burly partner arrived, more than 6 feet and 200 pounds of solid muscle.
“I ran toward Chad,” Yates said. “He had her by the legs, and the ladder was bent and going, ready to collapse, so I grabbed the front of the ladder.
“You could see the chain, it was choking her tighter. So I just grabbed one side and held on.”
As Yates held one side of the woman and the ladder, Davis still clung to the other side. The woman was swaying under that limb, the chain around her neck.
Yet these Atlases did not shrug.
Davis managed another call to EMS, which had emergency medical technicians nearby, waiting for the deputies to confirm that the scene was safe for them to rush in.
The four EMTs ran to help, along with York County Magistrate Judge Bob Davenport, a firefighter with the Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department who had heard the radio call and dropped everything to rush to the scene.
Davis told them he first needed something other than their medical expertise.
“We need your muscle.”
The seven emergency responders – two deputies, four EMTs and a volunteer firefighter – then carefully lowered the woman down from the top of the bent and mangled ladder.
The woman was crying, Davis said.
The woman was upset, Yates said.
“But she was alive!” both said in unison.
The EMS workers tended to the woman before rushing her to Piedmont Medical Center. The deputies followed closely behind the ambulance.
“The adrenaline, it was still kicking,” Yates said. “We were concerned about the woman and her baby.”
A short time later, hospital officials found the two deputies, still drenched in sweat, their bullet-proof vests stuck to their chests and backs, their faces red and streaked.
“They told us that both were going to be OK,” Davis said.
The two deputies sagged for a second, then each stood tall. They did not say much to each other.
Their eyes said what words could not.
What most cops are made of
Thanks to some terrible, even criminal, actions by a few cops across the country – shooting and choking suspects and sometimes innocent bystanders – police officers have become targets. Under intense media and public scrutiny, they are sometimes vilified. Police officers in 2015 are, at times, portrayed as brigands and violent gun-toting bandits just spoiling for a fight.
But on a cool Sunday morning, these two cops showed what they are made of, what most cops are made of.
“It is not every day that anyone, let alone a police officer, saves a life – or, in this case, two lives,” said Lt. David Frye, Davis and Yates’ shift supervisor. “It is not every day that you go to work, and the courage that you have saves two people.”
Frye, a volunteer firefighter for 32 years as well as a cop, said what Davis and Yates did is just like a firefighter rushing into a burning building to save people.
“Not a bit different,” he said. “They did not stop, and they saved that woman and the child not yet born.”
These two officers prevented a suicide. As a consequence, a child still not yet born will have a chance to live a life without limits.
Frye is putting Davis and Yates in for commendations.
Both are thankful for the pat on the back, but that is not why they are cops.
Chad Davis and Josh Yates are police officers because every day, in ways big and small, somebody out there needs someone like them to have the courage to not quit.
In 2012, Davis responded to a call about people living in a house with no heat, no running water, but plenty of holes in the walls and the floor.
Davis and his partner back then, Deputy Jonathan Reed, had the terrible responsibility of removing two children from the home and turning them over to the state Department of Social Services. Instead of just moving on to the next call, Davis and Reed took it upon themselves to return to the house and help the family repair it and make it liveable.
“In this job, you don’t like the spotlight, you don’t want the spotlight,” Davis said. “But when we left (Sunday), I said to myself, ‘We can be proud of that one. I am proud of that one.’ ”
Yates put it this way: “The woman and that baby could not help themselves. They needed help, and we helped. That is what we do.”
After the two deputies cleared the call at the hospital just after 10 a.m. Sunday, they were bone-weary, tired, drained.
But they were scheduled to be on duty until 6 p.m., so they wrote up their report, climbed back into their patrol cars, and finished their shift.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, but help for those in crisis is available year-round:
▪ The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 800-273-8255.
▪ United Way of York County 211 offers information and referral 24 hours a day for human services needs such as counseling, food and shelter, suicide prevention, emergency shelter for children and battered women, and other services. 866-892-9211.
▪ National Alliance on Mental Illness Piedmont Tri-County offers resources and local support group meetings. Call 803-610-8174 for information and meeting times/locations.
▪ Catawba Mental Health Center, an office of the state Department of Mental Health, serves York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Call 803-328-9600 or 800-475-1978.