Former Portland city commissioner honored in Lake Oswego for preventing a suicide

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson presents former Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard with the Chiefs Coin on Monday for his efforts to keep a distraught woman from committing suicide.Randy Leonard was heading from his home in West Linn to a speaking engagement in Portland when the woman caught his eye. She was sitting on the railing of the Highway 43 bridge over Oswego Creek, just yards away from George Rogers Park.

“She wasn’t looking at the scenery,” Leonard says. “She was looking straight down, and it was very steep from where she was standing. That is when I knew she was going to jump.”

And so Leonard, whose career as a firefighter, state senator and Portland city commissioner was often turbulent and filled with difficult decisions, acted quickly.

“Randy did something that changed the course of a life,” Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson told a crowd of police officers and firefighters on Monday, when he awarded Leonard the Chief’s Coin for heroism. “It even changed the course of life for Randy and his wife, Katie.”

At about 5 p.m. on June 23, Leonard drove through a red light, made a U-turn and crossed through rush-hour traffic, enraging another driver who started screaming at him. When Leonard pointed to the woman on the bridge, whose legs already were draped over the side of the railing, the driver’s hands flew over her mouth.

Leonard says that when he approached the desperate woman, he originally just wanted to talk to her. But then she started to move too quickly for him to do anything but act.

“I put my arms around her waist and grabbed her,” Leonard says. “She was yelling at me to let her go. I felt the best thing I could do was just stand there and hold her.”

It was, Leonard says, the first time he had ever had to wait for help.

“Before, I was always the help,” he says. “I felt every emotion, from irritation to terror, all within five seconds.”

Leonard held the woman until another man jumped out of his car, grabbed one of the woman’s legs and helped Leonard lift her over the railing. In the distance, Leonard heard sirens wailing, and says that’s when he knew the woman would be saved.

As firefighters and police officers arrived, Leonard stayed on the scene until the woman calmed down. After making sure that everything was under control, the man who helped Leonard on the bridge left without being identified. On Monday, Leonard was able to talk to the woman he saved and learned that she is undergoing counseling and doing better.

Even beyond the saving of a human life, Leonard says, the experience was especially meaningful for him. His daughter, Kara Marie Leonard, 31, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2011 after struggling for years with addiction and depression.

“This was quite an epiphany for me and Katie,” he says. “We’ve had suicide in our family. We lost our daughter three years ago. This whole event intersected with issues we’ve been grappling with for the past three years.”

In the award presentation Monday, Johnson noted Leonard’s years of training as a firefighter and rescue worker. But Leonard says that’s not why he acted as he did.

“I think what I did was a normal instinct,” Leonard says. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Johnson would probably disagree — this is only the fourth time in three years that he has awarded the Chief’s Coin, which honors citizens for acts of bravery and heroism. But Lake Oswego Fire Chief Ed Wilson, who has known Leonard since the two were rookie firefighters in 1978, says Leonard’s actions were right within his character.

“Randy’s stopping on the bridge was not a surprise to me,” Wilson says. “Randy is a unique individual. He’s a doer.”

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