Two Savannah Police officers risked their lives by diving into freezing water and resisting a rapid river current to help save the life of a woman on February 8 in Savannah.
Three days following their heroic efforts, Sergeant Sharif Lockett, 29, and Officer William Fitzpatrick, 28, each said the rescue was more difficult than anything they’ve ever done as SPD officers. Still, while bodycam footage of the rescue shows undeniably heroic actions, neither officer considers himself a hero looking back.
“A lot of people have said that (we are heroes). We did save a woman that day, but (police) do this every day,” said the Savannah born-and-raised Lockett during a February 11 press conference at police headquarters in downtown Savannah. “There are officers who achieve excellence everyday and aren’t recognized for it.”
“I’m just thankful she was okay,” said Fitzpatrick, a native of Peoria, Illinois. “It was nothing special on my behalf. It’s just what’s expected of me.”
Initially, a 911 call was made by a citizen driver who had witnessed someone dangerously leaning far over the edge of the Forest River Bridge above the Little Ogeechee River. Nearby officers, including Lockett and Fitzpatrick, were immediately notified to respond to the bridge area, But, while the citizen’s dispatch call was still ongoing, the woman was seen jumping off the bridge (around 5:20 p.m.) in an apparent suicide attempt.
“Oh my God! She just jumped!” shouts the caller to dispatch. “Oh my God! Oh my God!”
While the fall did not kill her, if help didn’t come soon, the freezing river waters soon would.
Additional SPD officers, Chatham County Police officers, firefighters and EMS frantically attempted to locate the woman in the waters as residents who lived in the area (near Inwood Road and Brewster Street off Rio Road) assisted with the search. Fitzpatrick recalled spending nearly 30 minutes plodding through the marsh along the river bank, hoping to see or hear some sign of the woman.
“If she was still alive in the waters, time was certainly running out.
At that time, a resident of the neighborhood called police to relay that she had seen a person floating by her dock. The search effort moved to that area quickly, and after searching the area for some time, officers heard “gurgling” and realized that the woman was stuck underneath the floating dock some of them were standing on. The officers on the dock tried desperately to pull her up, but they were unsuccessful.
“She’s under here!” shouted one officer to others still searching the shore line.
That’s when Fitzpatrick decided to ditch his gear (and his bodycam) and jump into the water. Lockett went in soon after and the two collectively worked to pull the woman from under the dock, out of the water, and onto the dock.
This wasn’t an easy task for Fitzpatrick and Lockett. Freezing temps had put the woman into an understandable state of shock. The cold water made it difficult for the officers or the woman to speak, let alone shout.
“Just let me die,” said the woman who can be heard groaning the phrase repeatedly in the provided video.
“No! I’m not going to let you die,” Fitzpatrick responds. “Please! Just let go and let me help you!”
She was eventually lifted up to relative safety on the dock where she was quickly treated by EMS before being taken to a nearby hospital for further treatment.
“Once we got to her, I wasn’t letting go of her,” said Fitzpatrick. “Whatever I had to do to get her out, whether that be laying my own life down on the line, I was willing to do that.”
Lockett and Fitzpatrick said they haven’t identified the woman and they haven’t spoken to her since saving her from a near-certain drowning death. But if she was listening (or reading) coverage from the ordeal, they did have words of encouragement for her.
“Just want her to know that there are people who care,” Lockett said. “Whether it’s her family or if it’s police and EMS. There are people who care about you and who are thankful that this had a positive outcome.”