CHP Officer Gulps, Talks Woman Off Bridge Perch

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A California Highway Patrol officer who is afraid of heights sat atop a bridge that spans a deep gorge near Pine Valley for nearly two hours early Monday and talked a distraught woman out of jumping 260 feet to a nearly certain death.

Officer Tracy Van Emmerik, 26, said she "just tried to keep my mind off" her fear of heights, which she said give her "the willies," because the woman "needed somebody, and if we had given up on her, she probably would have jumped."

Robin Lynn West, 44, of Los Angeles initially refused to leave her perch on a six-inch railing and, at one point, threw her legs over the edge and tossed her stuffed bear and car keys back to officers, Van Emmerik said.

But West finally relented after conceding that she was hungry, and officers agreed to take her for a burrito at an El Cajon restaurant, Van Emmerik said.

"I kept telling her I was afraid, and I was cold and would she please get down," Van Emmerik said. "Maybe she felt sorry for me."

Van Emmerik, a five-year CHP veteran, and her partner, Officer Ruben Lazo, were called at 1:50 a.m. Monday to the Pine Valley bridge on Interstate 8, about 45 miles east of downtown San Diego, according to CHP records.

The two officers found a woman, later identified as West, balancing on the bridge's northern railing in the center of the span, Van Emmerik said.

The woman, who at first told officers only that her name was "Robbi," told Van Emmerik she was on the railing because she had "a lot of emotional problems and relationship problems and wanted to end it kind of thing."

Van Emmerik, her back to the railing to avoid looking down, crawled to within 10 or 15 feet of the woman. West became agitated, however, as Lazo drew closer and, later, as other male officers arrived.

"She made it clear she didn't want men around," Van Emmerik said. "We struck a deal: that if they backed off, she would sit down on the railing and talk to me, which she did, finally."

For the next two hours, the two women talked. "We talked about movies and books and shopping and family and, gosh, it was like I was talking to one of my girlfriends or something," Van Emmerik said.

West stepped back down onto the bridge about 4 a.m., after officers promised her a meal, Van Emmerik said. Before taking West to the San Diego County Psychiatric Hospital on Rosecrans Street, she and Lazo treated her to a burrito, Van Emmerik said.

"I'm just totally relieved that nothing serious happened," Van Emmerik said.

It could not be learned late Monday night whether West was still at the county facility.

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