Archived Story

Cass County Sheriff recognizes 3 for thwarting suicide

Published 12:57pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

By JOHN EBY
Leader Publications

CASSOPOLIS – A former Dowagiac dispatcher, a Cass County deputy sheriff and a Michigan State Police trooper who grew up in Cassopolis who teamed up to thwart a suicide, were honored by Sheriff Joseph Underwood before the Board of Commissioners Thursday night.

It was 9 a.m. on Oct. 8. Central Dispatch got a BOL – be on the lookout – for a suicidal subject from Elkhart County.

Huston, who spent 14 years with the Dowagiac Police Department before joining the Cass County Sheriff’s Office 17 years ago, received the suspect’s name, a vehicle description and the cell phone tower location.

Elkhart advised he took some pills and intended to “say goodbye.”

Deputy Jeff Johnson and Trooper Aaron Steensma happened to be in the southern part of the county and responded.

“It’s not a typical 9-11 call” because they had to first locate the vehicle.

“Kandy recontacted Elkhart County,” Underwood said, “obtaining the phone number for the individual who made the call. She called the number, talked to the friend of the suspect to gather some more information. The individual did not know an address or possible location, but they gave directions and a description of a house he lived in in Cass County. Through the efforts of Kandy, asking questions, obtaining information, she was able to find the possible location of the subject and relayed this information to Deputy Johnson and Trooper Steensma.”

“Dispatcher Huston was also able to retrieve information that on a prior Friday, the suspect had broken out some windows at this house,” the sheriff said. Johnson and Steensma proceeded to that area “and were able to locate the residence.”

Searching for the vehicle and the subject, the deputy and the trooper “found an unattached garage and could hear the sound of a vehicle running. It was dark inside and they couldn’t see, but when they were able to open up the garage, they found the person lying on the floor. It was filled with monoxide. The subject kind of raised up and they were able to get him out of the building” without being overcome themselves.
An ambulance was summoned.

The subject was taken to Elkhart General Hospital, where he made a full recovery within a few days.

A search found a shotgun and a suicide note in the vehicle.

“It was quite evident,” Underwood said, “that person had intended to take his own life. Dispatcher Huston, Deputy Johnson and Trooper Steensma saved a life that day. That person got help and he is still alive as a result of their efforts. It wasn’t a typical 911 call, but what they did was extraordinary.

“They went that extra effort to not only get the information from the BOL, but made additional calls and did not treat it as just any old call coming in. We had a successful outcome. The citizens of Cass County can know when they make a call, their calls are taken seriously, and that we’ve got people who are going to respond.”

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