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Canton officers praised for rescue of suicidal man

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CANTON — Canton-area law enforcement officers earned praise for their courageous actions in rescuing a suicidal man last week.

The Police Benevolent Association of New York State is commending SUNY Canton University Police Officer Daniel V. Callahan, Lt. Brian E. Kurish and Deputy Chief Alan P. Mulkin, as well as Canton Police Sgt. James Santimaw, for the April 22 rescue. An unidentified man jumped from the Riverside Drive footbridge that connects the village to SUNY Canton over the Grasse River.

University police received the report about 10:30 p.m. Officers found the man with a rope around his neck.

Mr. Callahan said he and Mr. Santimaw arrived on the scene, and when they tried to grab the man, he jumped off the bridge.

Both officers tried to pull the man back up onto the bridge, but he was too heavy, Mr. Callahan said.

The two officers decided it was best to cut the rope, allowing the man to plunge into the river which was swollen because of heavy rains and melting snow.

“Cutting the rope was the only option,” Mr. Callahan said. “Then he was out of sight, and I just went in looking for him.”

Taking off his heavy gear, Mr. Callahan ran back to the dark shoreline and dived into the river without thinking twice, he said.

“At the time of heading in I was just going out there looking for a body,” Mr. Callahan said. “It was pretty dark and he was in dark clothing.”

With 10 years of competitive swimming under his belt and as a member of the Potsdam Volunteer Fire Department, Mr. Callahan managed to withstand the river’s force; he said it took him about 20 seconds to find the man, who was about 25 feet from the shore.

“Once I found him and brought him to about two feet of water near the shore, the lieutenant, deputy chief and sergeant jumped in to pull him out,” Mr. Callahan said.

Mr. Santimaw could not be reached for comment. But Mr. Callahan said “he was a great help” and he “wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”

The man was taken to Canton-Potsdam Hospital and is expected to recover, the Police Benevolent Association said in a release.

“This courageous rescue shows the dedication and professionalism of both the SUNY Canton University Police and the Canton Village Police,” the release said. “The PBA is grateful that all involved are safe and the situation ended positively.”

University Police Chief John A. Kaplan said this act of heroism underscores the officers’ dedication to the campus and community.

“An extraordinary array of skills was displayed by a number of officers from the very beginning of the incident,” Mr. Kaplan said. “Because of our officers’ dedication, their ability to remain calm under pressure, life-saving skills and their fitness level, an extremely dangerous and difficult situation was resolved in minutes.”

Mr. Kaplan said an off-duty University Police officer also responded as a member of the Canton Volunteer Rescue Squad. St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, Potsdam village police and state police offered their services in follow-up investigations.

“I think this kind of incident highlights the responsiveness of area law enforcement agencies because we had tremendous assistance,” Mr. Kaplan said. “It’s also really impressive to see the highly skilled team at Canton-Potsdam Hospital; as always they provide the highest level of trauma care.”

Both Mr. Kaplan and Canton Police Chief Lori A. McDougal said they were proud of their officers and the level of professionalism.

“I am very proud of not only Sgt. Santimaw, but the officers with him who handled the very stressful situation at hand very calmly and effectively,” Chief. McDougal said. “I’m glad everything turned out the way it did and I am relieved to hear that the victim is doing well. I think as a police officer, we don’t think twice about it; we just do it, and that’s what happened here.”

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