An effort between civilians and rescue workers helped stop a suicidal man from jumping off the Atlantic City Expressway overpass early Friday morning.
TaShona Sparkmon would never be coming home from work just before 1 a.m.
And she definitely wouldn’t be taking the Atlantic City Expressway.
But a series of events Thursday led her past the exit near Franklin Boulevard just in time to see the man as he climbed the gate in an attempt to jump.
“I put the car in reverse,” Sparkmon, 31, told BreakingAC. “I jumped out of my car. I didn’t even have enough time to shut the door.”
She also didn’t have enough time to tell her husband, who she was talking to on her phone, what was happening.
When he heard her screaming, “No, no, no,” and then the line went dead, he thought it was a carjacking.
And that’s how the call came in to 911 from her husband in New Gretna.
Before help came, Sparkmon took action.
“I just started screaming, ‘Please, no, please, come down,’” she recalled. “Please don’t.”
Instinctively, she grabbed his pant leg, but he kicked her away.
She just kept begging him to give her a second. To let her talk to him even if he didn’t talk to her.
The man was crying and visibly upset, she said.
Sparkmon told him not to look down.
“I said, ‘I love you. You matter to me and your life matters to me,’” she recalled. “’I’m going to remember you for the rest of my life and I’d like to remember that you lived and not died.’”
He kept telling her he couldn’t.
Passing motorists began stopping, likely wondering what the woman yelling up in the rain was doing. The man dressed in all black and on the other side of the gate was not visible to passers-by, she said.
She tried to draw their attention without scaring him.
“Brother, you don’t want to do this,” she recalled one man saying.
Another woman spoke to him in Spanish.
Some tried bribing him with money.
Then she started to pull his clothing through the gate, others joining.
There were more than half-dozen people grabbing on to what they could, hoping it would be enough to hold him if he decided to jump, Sparkmon said.
Afer what “felt like an eternity,” an officer arrived, responding to the carjacking call.
Patrolman Michael Mabkhouti arrived thinking it was a carjacking.
Sparkmon said responders quickly assessed the situation and worked together to get the man down.
Realizing the man spoke Spanish, Patrolwoman Rackeli Fontana came, Capt. Matt Hartman said.
Additional Pleasantville, Absecon and New Jersey State Police personnel responded and closed down north and southbound Franklin Boulevard and the eastbound lanes of the expressway, he said.
The Pleasantville Fire Department responded and raised their ladder from the eastbound lanes of the expressway in an attempt to secure him, Hartman said.
Once cleared of the area to let the rescue workers do what was needed, Sparkmon went on Facebook Live to capture the moment.
Mabkhouti used bolt cutters to get through the fence.
Sparkmon said they secured the man with a harness.
Mabkhouti pulled him to safety, Hartman said.
It took about 40 minutes.
“The conduct of these officers is a testament to their dedication,training and compassion for those in our community who need and deserve our help,” Hartman said.
He also thanked Sparkmon for seeing what was happening and acting.
She said she felt she was destined to find the man there.
Sparkmon had gone to Atlantic City late to help a worker for her company, Allied Universal Security, who was having a health issue. Seeing she was in the city, her best friend invited her for a snack at McDonald’s.
Normally, Sparkmon would take the Black Horse Pike home, but the detour caused her to come over the expressway just at 12:40 a.m., in time to see the man climb up.
Her actions weren’t not that of a hero, she insists. But of a human.
She said she would hope someone would help her in that situation. Or her own son.
“Not be a hero be a human,” she said.
“My only fear in this entire thing is that man will probably never forget me for the rest of his life, and I’ll never forget him for the rest of my life,” she said. “Yet I may never see him ever again, and that bothers me.”