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Guardsman thwarts a suicide attempt in NW Tucson

Tech. Sgt. Todd Stuve maintains publications and F-16 operating procedures at the 162nd Fighter Wing, part of his duties in the unit’s standardization and evaluation office. (Air Force photo by Maj. Gabe Johnson)

Tech. Sgt. Todd Stuve maintains publications and F-16 operating procedures at the 162nd Fighter Wing, part of his duties in the unit’s standardization and evaluation office. (Air Force photo by Maj. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A leisurely Sunday afternoon at home for one Arizona Air Guardsman turned into a frantic race against the clock to avert a suicide attempt and save a friend's life, May 9.

Tech. Sgt. Todd Stuve, an aviation resource manager in the 162nd Fighter Wing's standardization and evaluation office at Tucson International Airport, became part detective and part race car driver the moment he learned that the mother of his son's best friend was overdosing on prescription medication.

It was around 1 p.m. when Donnie, 14, dropped by to pay a routine visit to Sergeant Stuve's son at their home in northwest Tucson. He wasn't at the house long before he began to worry about his mother, Kim.

"His mom had attempted suicide before," said Sergeant Stuve, "so Donnie being proactive started studying the signs which I think was very smart of him."

"I can't get a hold of my mom," Donnie told Stuve, "Something's not right. Can you take me home?"

Sergeant Stuve and Donnie quickly climbed into his Toyota RAV-4 and began the mile-and-a-half trip to Donnie's house.

"He kept trying to call her on her cell phone... no response," said Stuve. "He was getting increasingly nervous and emotionally charged."

When the pair arrived at Kim's house her car was gone. In a panic Donnie burst through the front door and searched every room. Kim wasn't to be found.

"All of a sudden, Donnie's phone rang and I answered it because he was in total emotional distress," said Sergeant Stuve. "It was his mom. I said, 'Kim, where are you? We are going to come to you.' I could barely make out what she was saying. Her words were slurred and the connection wasn't good. She said something about a park."

Kim found a public restroom in a nearby park; her words were unintelligible from the pills she had ingested and the echo of the concrete enclosure. The brick walls that surrounded her interrupted the cell phone signal.

In the afternoon's rush, Stuve had left his home without his cell phone to call police. But without an exact location, he wouldn't have had enough information to give emergency responders.

"All I had was Donnie's phone and I didn't want to hang up with Kim to call the police. I was afraid we wouldn't be able to reach her again. So I kept talking to her to try to get more information and to keep her awake."

Driving away, Sergeant Stuve and Donnie began looking for nearby parks while keeping Kim on the line. She uttered a clue - "Camino de la Tierra."

"The only park I could think of was next to a private school on Camino de la Tierra," he said. "We raced to the park, tires squealing. I didn't know my RAV could drift but I managed to do it."

They pulled into the park in a cloud of dust, but no one was there.

Still on the phone with the sergeant, Kim offered another barely-audible clue - "Richardson." It dawned on Stuve that she might be at Richardson Elementary School.

Again they tore off in Stuve's car. This time, the trip yielded results.

As Sergeant Stuve and Donnie pulled up to the school they saw a park just down a hill. Luckily, a groundskeeper was standing nearby.

"Call 911! I have a drug overdose in this bathroom. I need them here right now!" Stuve shouted as he passed.

At the bottom of the hill a 10-foot fence stood in their way. Nimble at 14, Donnie scaled it quickly. Stuve, close behind, fell to the other side onto his back. Despite the tumble he made it to the bathroom to find Kim on the floor.

"She was incoherent. I wanted her to stay awake so I started slapping her on the face. We picked her up and brought her to a park bench right outside the bathroom."

He saw some kids playing on the jungle gym nearby and asked if they had water. A little girl, about 9, offered her bottle of Propel fitness water. Sergeant Stuve and Donnie continued to keep her awake until the police and an ambulance arrived moments later.

Kim was taken to the hospital and treated.

"I'm thankful that it turned out like it did. I didn't get pulled over and there weren't any other delays."

Sergeant Stuve saw Kim a couple of days later and she hugged him and thanked him, he said. "She's had a hard life and I think she feels alone and needs friends. We're starting to invite her over to our house. I think it's important to just be there for people who are struggling."

"It's easy to overlook the signs of distress. We don't see them because we're so busy in our own little worlds. I'm guilty of that. We just need to keep situational awareness, on and off the job."

Donnie and Kim, whose names have been changed for their privacy, now share an even closer bond with the Stuve family. Donnie summed up the situation in a brief letter of commendation for Sergeant Stuve.

"Todd Stuve, my best friend's dad, helped save my mom's life. He has always helped me in the past, and I think he has always been there for me. Without him, my mom would surely have died," wrote Donnie.

To learn more about suicide prevention and how to intervene visit az.wingmanproject.org. Those who need help now can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.