Railroad worker, local drivers stop suicide attempt

June 14, 2011

Four men put a stop to a suicide attempt when they pulled a person off the railroad tracks at 115th Street between Watertown Plank and Potter roads on Friday afternoon.

Brian Olson, a Canadian-Pacific Railroad track foreman, was stationed at the crossing when the 49-year-old Wauwatosa man approached and asked when and where the next train was expected to arrive. The man then headed to the north track and laid down, he said.

Olson had given a westbound train clearance to cross, so he ran from his vehicle to the tracks. Luckily, another truck had stopped and the occupants helped Olson pull the man off the track.

“It was pretty scary,” he said. “I didn’t know how far away the train was. The gentleman decided he wanted to end his life. I couldn’t let that happen.”
The suicidal man resisted the rescue attempt, but the group, which soon included a couple more drivers, got him off the tracks and restrained him until police arrived, Olson said. Meanwhile, Olson made a run back to his truck and called to stop the train, which was less than a half-mile away at that point.

Olson marveled at the timing, saying he had let an Amtrak train cross less than 10 minutes before the man’s arrival. With the train traveling at 60 mph, the man likely wouldn’t have survived that impact, he said.

When an officer arrived, the man said police should “go ahead and shoot me. I want to die. I was trying to kill myself,” according to the Wauwatosa police report. After repeatedly resisting police attempts to calm him down and handcuff him for his own safety, an officer used a stun gun on him.

Tosa resident David Birnschein, was one of the men who happened to be driving by at the time and helped with the rescue. He said he saw the suicidal man talking to the rail foreman, then drunkenly stumble into traffic. He was going to call over to the Police Department to give officers a heads up, but when the man sat down on the tracks he immediately called 911.

A firefighter/paramedic for Elm Grove and Brookfield, Birnschein has experience dealing with emergencies. He also tended to a cut knee suffered by one of the rescuers, and he checked out the man after the stun gun was used.
He said he felt for the man because while he handled it wrong he obviously was quite distraught about his life and took drastic action.

“At least people were willing to stop and help out,” Birnschein said.

Eventually, police took the man to Froedtert Hospital for a mental evaluation.  


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