A city man struggling with pain and heroin dependence was on the verge of jumping off the side of a Route 80 West bridge by exit 80 on Sunday evening. His design was thwarted when off-duty Passaic County Sheriff’s commander Nart Hapatsha happened to be by the Madison Avenue exit.
Hapatsha saw a few people gawking at the jumper, who was standing outside of the bridge railing, at about 6:30 p.m. He walked up to the man with a bottle of water in hand. He began a process that he had utilized countless times as a hostage negotiator for the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office since 2005.
Hapatsha asked the jumper if he had a lighter.
“No,” replied the jumper.
“Do you want some water?” asked the commander putting down a bottle of water.
The jumper kept looking at him.
“I told him my car broke down and I need to get it off the highway before the cops come,” said Hatpasha. He offered the man $20 to get the car started.
“I’m waiting for my mechanic. I been waiting here for two hours,” said Hapatsha filling the silence.
“I’m a mechanic,” the jumper finally replied.
“Listen, I’ll give you $50 if you help me get started before I have to get it towed,” said the commander.
The man turned around, climbed back over the railing. The man asked if Hapatsha had called police.
“No, I don’t like cops,” replied Hapatsha. He had called headquarters requesting units before getting out of his vehicle. “Thank God I wasn’t in uniform. He would have probably jumped,” he said on Friday afternoon.
What was that all about? asked Hapatsha to the jumper.
“Life sucks. I want to kill myself and end this,” said the man, in his late 30s, recollected Hapatsha. The jumper told authorities he wanted to end his life due to pain in his back and inability to continue working without reliance on heroin.
The jumper was above the bridge that overlooks the area of Main Street and 21st Avenue, according to authorities. He was waiting for a large truck to jump in front of, said the commander.
“There’s no need for that. There’s a lot of people that will help you,” Hapatsha told the jumper. He had the jumper sit and calmed him down.
New Jersey State Police and Passaic County Sheriff’s Office units converged on the scene. Police had the jumper taken to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for evaluation.
Hapatsha did not have to place the man in handcuffs, he said.
“The truck did come by,” said Hapatsha.
When told without his intervention there was a probability the jumper would have taken his life, Hapatsha replied: “I can’t predict the future. Thank God it ended that way. I’m glad the guy is getting help.”
Hapatsha’s intervention prevented the man from jumping off the Route 80 bridge. He has been working for the sheriff’s office since 1988. He identified only as a resident of Passaic County. Hapatsha is a Paterson native, he said.
“I want to commend Commander Hapatsha for acting quickly to prevent an suicide,” said Passaic County sheriff Richard Berdnik. “On behalf of the Department and the grateful residents of Passaic County, thank you.”