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‘I couldn’t let that happen': Deputy saves man dangling on bridge over raging river

Just 10 minutes earlier, the deputy had encountered the man while responding to a domestic call


Certain the man was about to jump, Prater said, he left his car, ran about 10 feet, and pulled him to safety.

Photo/Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office

By Joe Marusak
The Charlotte Observer

LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. — A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy knew he had to act when he spotted a distraught man straddling a bridge guardrail 20 feet or so above a swollen river.

The man appeared emotionally upset as he climbed onto the concrete guardrail over the South Fork River near Lincolnton and looked down, Lincoln County sheriff’s Deputy Holden Prater told The Charlotte Observer on Friday.

“I knew I had to get to him quickly,” Prater said.

Just 10 minutes earlier, Prater said, he encountered the 21-year-old man when the deputy responded to a nearby domestic call. Prater said the man was likewise visibly upset when the deputy showed up at the home. Prater declined to provide more details about the call.

Prater was back on routine patrol on Long Shoals Road when he said he spotted the man sitting partially over the concrete guardrail about 5:15 p.m. last Monday. The deputy said he saw a bicycle parked along the guardrail.

The man had already stood up and looked down at the river’s rapid current when Prater said he pulled up in his patrol car.

Certain the man was about to jump, Prater said, he left his car, ran about 10 feet, and pulled him to safety.

The man never resisted, Prater said, and the deputy got him inside his air-conditioned patrol car.

The encounter happened so fast that Prater couldn’t recall if he grabbed just the man’s shoulder or an arm as well.

Prater, 32, credited both his law-enforcement training and on-the-job experience for knowing the man was in distress and about to jump, although he said he’d never dealt with a similar situation before.

He’s been a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy for 6 1/2 years. He previously worked for the Gastonia Police Department for 3 1/2 years, he said.

Prater was born in Lincoln County and raised in the same Long Shoals area he patrols and where he rescued the man, he said.

Being from the area you cover as an officer can help “build bonds and relationships,” in turn leading to more information in cases, Prater said.

“Sometimes, people will be more open to talk with you,” he said.

While people have thanked him for saving the man, Prater said he sees what he did as what’s expected of him and fellow officers. Even if he weren’t wearing a badge, Prater said, he, and every other citizen for that matter, would hopefully react in the same way.

“I couldn’t sit there to see something like that happen,” Prater said.

More patrol cars arrived at the bridge that afternoon to help after Prater saved the man, and the man agreed to be taken to a hospital for evaluation, according to the sheriff’s office.

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