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Heroic efforts earn Talley 'Bronze Eagle'

June 11, 2008
Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Dennis Talley, who lives and works in Crawford County, received recognition recently for his efforts to prevent a person from following through on a suicide attempt last November.

Crawford County 911 dispatchers had gotten a call from a man in Evansville, a state police officer, who said a friend of his had called him by cell phone and told him he was in Crawford County. According to the police officer, the man, a veteran of the war in Iraq, was depressed and was believed to be considering suicide. A description of the man's vehicle was radioed to police officers in the county and, a short time later, Crawford County Sheriff's Deputy Shawn Scott located the vehicle at the Overlook Restaurant, parked at the edge of a bluff with the engine running. Talley, Sheriff Tim Wilkerson and other officers arrived on the scene minutes later.

As the officers tried to approach the vehicle, the man, who we'll call Jim, would wave them back.

"He wasn't talking much and indicated that he didn't want us to get too close or to rush him," Talley said. "He kept letting the vehicle roll forward a little at a time."

Jim, who was 34, had returned home from Iraq a few months earlier and had been stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. The strain of the war had taken a toll on him. Then his marriage and personal life began falling apart, and it was just all too much at one time.

He had been to the Overlook years earlier and remembered how beautiful and peaceful it was. He returned that day in November to find the peace he remembered and needed. He came back to die there.

He had it all planned out. He called his friend, the police officer in Evansville, and gave him his bank account and PIN numbers. He told the friend to draw all the money out of his account and give it to his four children. He then drove to the bluff at the Overlook.

"His thinking was somewhat rational," Talley said. "He was just wanting to do something that was irreversible. It makes you wonder what could be so bad that it deserves such drastic measures. He showed us a picture of his kids, and his military dog tags were hanging from the rear-view mirror. You could tell he was a good person, a productive individual."

Talley eventually talked Jim into shutting off the engine then offered to buy him a cup of coffee. But the man wasn't sold on the idea. Talley then began talking about being a Christian.

"Do you know what will happen to you if you drive over that bluff and kill yourself?" Talley asked.

"I'll go to hell, where I belong," Jim responded.

Talley edged a little closer, realizing he wasn't getting anywhere with the man.

"There's houses under that bluff," Talley told him. "I know you've been overseas fighting for the people here. I know you don't want to hurt anyone. But if you drive over that bluff, you won't hit the river. There's houses down there."

"No, there isn't," the man argued. "You're lying."

"I haven't told you a lie yet, have I?" Talley responded. "I want you to trust me. Do you want to see it on a map?"

When Jim said he wanted to see the map, Scott found one in his patrol car and showed the man what was under the bluff.

"You're not lying," Jim said. He sat there a moment, then threw the vehicle in park and pulled on the emergency brake. "I can't do anything right, even this."

Jim burst into tears, opened the door, hugged Talley and laid his head on Talley's shoulder, crying uncontrollably.

After a few minutes, Talley asked the man, "Would you mind if I patted you down?"

"No, sir," Jim answered.

The officers found nothing, but Jim then asked them to get his medication from his duffel bag.

"I think one of those pills would be good right now," he said.

"The medication was prescribed to him for depression," Talley said. "We handed him just one pill and put the others away. He then asked, 'What about that cup of coffee now?' He didn't want to get into the sheriff's car because he was afraid he would be arrested but was willing to ride in my vehicle. We went to Carefree and he had a soft drink then ordered biscuits and gravy."

The officers asked Jim why he had chosen Crawford County as the place he wanted to die.

"I think this is a pretty area," he answered. "Have you ever been hiking in the mountains? That's when I feel closest to God. This place is kind of like that."

After the officers were sure that Jim was doing better, Talley took him back to his vehicle, and the two men sat and talked about marriage and kids and life.

"He talked about us getting together someday and going fishing at Celina Lake," Talley said. "Maybe we will someday."

The man drove back home to Evansville, and once he arrived, called Sheriff Wilkerson to let him know he had made it there safely.

Last month, Talley received the Bronze Eagle Award for his actions that November evening. Given at an annual awards ceremony for Indiana Conservation Officers in Indianapolis, the award is a prestigious one given to Conservation Officers who go beyond the ordinary call of duty to protect the lives of others. It is one of just seven lifesaving awards received by Indiana Conservation Officers in the southern half of Indiana.

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