By Curt Peterson
Woodstock Chief of Police Robbie Blish gave Corporal Mark Donka a Life Saving Award for rescuing a young New Hampshire man Dec. 7 from atop the new fence meant to dissuade would-be suicides at the Quechee Gorge bridge.
Blish announced the award in his report to the Woodstock Village Trustees at their meeting Tuesday, Jan. 8.
Donka, who has been in police work for 39 years, told the Mountain Times he was driving home early the morning of Dec. 7 and saw a man teetering on the edge of the fence.
According to the award, some passersby had stopped and were engaging the man in a conversation.
“You noticed that the subject was rocking back and forth on top of the fence and threatening to jump into the Gorge and kill himself,” the award reads. “You quickly calculated that as the subject rocked towards Route 4 you could grab his leg and pull him to safety.
“You rushed in, grabbed the subject’s leg and pulled him down,” the award stated.
Donka then had to subdue the rescuee, who was resisting the officer’s help. He calmed him down and helped him keep warm while they waited for the Hartford Police Department to arrive.
Once there, Donka said, the Hartford officers took the young man into custody and transported him to Mt. Ascutney Hospital for mental evaluation.
“They would have asked for an Emergency Mental Health Warrant,” Donka said, “That would require the fellow to stay at the hospital for 72 hours.”
This was not a new situation for Donka. He said he rescued two other would-be jumpers from the bridge in the past.
“One was an older woman who decided she had changed her mind,” Donka remembered. “The other was a guy from the Veteran’s Hospital. I grabbed him from the outside rail and pulled him back.”
These prior incidents happened before the fence was installed in October last year. Donka thinks the fence may slow would be suicides down in some situations, but not this one.
“He was a young guy. He scampered up that fence really fast,” Donka said. “The fence didn’t slow him down.”
The last Donka heard of the man, whose name has not been made public, he had been released from the hospital. He thinks he was in his 20s, and may have told Donka his name was Owen.
Donka lives in Hartford with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. He’s run against Congressman Peter Welch twice, and for state senate once, losing all three times.
“In my second run against Peter,” Donka said, “I got around 32 percent of the vote statewide, so people were listening.”
For now policing in Woodstock is something he enjoys and plans to do for at least a few more years.
“I have no political aspirations at the moment,” he said.