The new fence on the Quechee Gorge Bridge - and a fast-thinking off-duty cop - save a life Friday morning


Submitted a month ago
Created by
Eric Francis

QUECHEE GORGE - Just weeks after a new fence meant to deter suicide attempts was installed on the Route 4 bridge over the Quechee Gorge it appears to have successfully thwarted a would-be jumper.

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    Woodstock Police Officer Mark Donka had just wrapped up the night shift and was headed home first thing Friday morning when he drove across the bridge and spotted a man in his early 20’s trying to climb up and over the rim of the tricky barrier.

    “He was right up at the top of the fence where it bends back,” explained Sgt. Karl Ebbighausen who was one of several Hartford police officers and firefighters who heard Donka radioing for help at 6:56 a.m. and responded to Quechee from the Hartford Police Station in order to help him.

    “Mark was off-duty and headed home in his personal vehicle when he sees the guy up on the fence and so he stops his car on the bridge, jumps out, grabs the kid and pulls him down and then had to restrain him,” Ebbighausen said, “Because the kid was resisting him, like he still wanted to jump, so Mark held him down.”

    “This happened right at our shift change when we were all at our station and with road conditions it took us a while to get out there because everything was extremely slippery and there was a ton of traffic on Route 4 with people commuting to work and such,” Ebbighausen noted.  “When we arrived Mark still had him restrained on the ground and we were able to get him into custody.”

    “A couple of people stopped to assist (Officer Donka) and I wish I had gotten their names because they were super helpful,” Ebbighausen continued.  “One person was stopping traffic on the bridge and another was helping tend to the guy (who was being restrained) because he was underdressed and it was really cold out.”

Woodstock Police Officer Mark Donka (right) ran for Congress back in 2014

    The suicidal individual, who was from just across the river in New Hampshire, was taken by police to Mount Ascutney Hospital for an emergency mental health screening.  

    “We found his vehicle parked and unattended down at the Deweys Mills hydro dam and there was a fresh set of footprints right from the driver’s door up Deweys Mills Road right to the bridge,” the sergeant recalled.

    Ebbighausen said in previous months there would have been little time to even attempt an intervention but “maybe the extra height of the fence bought Donka the extra time needed to get him down off the bridge.”

    “We are very lucky that Mark was able to get hands on him and pull him down.  You talk about perfect timing.  Mark just happened to be coming across the bridge at that time,” Ebbighausen said, adding, “He did a heck of a job.  I’ll tell you that.”

A spate of four suicides at the Gorge earlier this year prompted installation of the fencing

A rescuer descended the trail in February to help recover one of the bodies from the Gorge

Vermont News can be contacted at vermontnews802@gmail.com

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