When a widowed father of four decided to "end it all" on a frigid March night, it was an unassuming bouncer from a neighborhood bar who stepped up and refused to let him jump into a stream of traffic below.
William Chessier Jr., a father himself, followed the despondent man and saw him climbing over a fence above Interstate 94. "Don't do it," Chessier yelled to him. "You're all your children have left. You gotta stay and be a father."
St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith on Thursday presented Chessier and 17 other St. Paul residents with the Chief's Citizen Award for their heroic efforts.
"As police officers, we can't be everywhere all the time," Smith said. "This is neighbors helping neighbors and that's what makes our community safe."
Chessier knew the despondent man, Johnnie, who was a mechanic in the neighborhood. On that March night at Paul's Lounge, Chessier was on duty when he saw Johnnie's family leave the bar in a fit of frustration.
In between downing shots of tequila and pints of beer, Johnnie sat at the St. Paul bar with Chessier and, for 45 minutes, talked to him about what seemed like an endless list of problems -- his wife had been murdered, his house had been foreclosed on, and he was getting little emotional and financial support from his family.
"I just feel like ending it all," Johnnie whispered to him.
After a few more beers, Johnnie stumbled out the door into the freezing weather. Chessier followed him after noticing he was heading the opposite direction of his home. By the time he reached him, Johnnie had climbed over a 10-foot fence on North Earl Street's I-94 overpass and was hanging on with two fingers.
Chessier, who weighs 280, said being a bouncer requires physical strength, negotiation skills and lots of patience. He used all of those skills that night.
He was able to get a grip on Johnnie and talked to him for 40 minutes. Then, after Johnnie decided he didn't want to die, Chessier pulled Johnnie's 270-pound body over the fence.
"I had a choice that night," he said. "I just didn't want to see anybody die."
Chessier migrated to St. Paul from the West side of Chicago. He's currently engaged, unemployed and considering going back to school. He hasn't spoken to Johnnie since the incident but says his family tells him that he's doing better.
Others honored Thursday were:
• Javon Thurmond and Russell Madison, who saved a 15-year-old girl from being abducted and helped police capture the suspect.
• Devante Peck helped his uncle, who had been stabbed and was bleeding profusely.
• Namu Nemah and Nicole Orfei, who helped police catch a robber who lived in an apartment building where they worked.
• Michael Barrett, Bryan Hamilton, Brett Nyman, Wells Farnham, Terry Pretzloff and Josh Suchy, who lifted a 170-pound suicidal man up a rough and unstable cliff to medical attention.
• Amy Laskowske and Stephanie Price, two joggers, who gave a fallen man CPR while urging others to call 911.
• David Gottschalk, a Ramsey County investigator, provided police with critical information that led to the arrest of an arson suspect.
• Huy Pham, Clark Westby and Cleve Nolan talked a suicidal man off the High Bridge last October.
Daarel Burnette • 651-735-1695