Trending Topics

LEO uses K-9 leash to rappel down cliffs to rescue 3

A suicidal man in San Diego drove off the cliffs with his two daughters in the car, plunging into the ocean below

David Hernandez
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — San Diego police Officer Jonathan Wiese was almost at Sunset Cliffs early Saturday when a lieutenant radioed that the suicidal driver police had been looking for had just driven off the cliffs.

The man’s wife had called the Sheriff’s Department around 4:30 a.m. reporting that her husband had taken off with their 2-year-old girls, with plans to drive off the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.

A sheriff’s dispatcher notified San Diego police and put out a description of the family and their tan pickup. After police traced the man’s cellphone to Sunset Cliffs, police Lt. Dave Bautista located the truck on Hill Street near Cornish Drive.

As soon as Bautista got close, the driver sped off and careened off the edge, plunging into the ocean below.

Wiese was on his way from the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, where he had been keeping an eye out for the truck, when he heard the radio call.

“Literally, my heart sank,” Wiese said Sunday. He thought to himself, “Please tell me the girls were not in the car.”

When he got to the scene moments later, he ran behind Bautista to the edge of the cliffs. They saw the truck upside down, smashed on a rock, with the cab underwater. Wiese said his first thought was that no one survived. Then he saw the motions of the man, holding onto the two girls.

Wiese, a 22-year veteran of the force and the father of a 2-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy, said his “dad instincts” kicked in.

His first thought was to jump off the edge, but it was dark out and the cliff side was rocky. Then he thought of a 100-foot-long canine leash used for SWAT missions. The K-9 officer stripped off his gun belt and vest, wrapped the leash around his chest and threw one end over the cliffs. He gave the other end to arriving officers.

“I said, ‘Hey, hang on. I’m going.’”

Officers helped lower him about 30 feet onto rocks, where Wiese got into the water and swam to the family, his uniform and boots still on. The man was treading water with a girl in each arm. One girl was crying, holding onto the man’s neck; the other appeared to be “lifeless,” Wiese said.

Because of the report of the man’s suicidal thoughts, Wiese thought it best to rescue all three and not leave the man behind. Wiese remembered his water survival training from Marine Corps boot camp. He swam under the trio as he pushed them to shore, keeping them above water.

At the bottom of the cliff, he put the girl who appeared to be in worst shape in a canvas bag. Using the same leash, officers hoisted the girl up the cliff’s edge. With the help of arriving San Diego Fire-Rescue personnel, they repeated the process to rescue the second girl.

Wiese stayed with the man, who “was banged up pretty good,” until a San Diego Fire-Rescue Department helicopter hoisted the man up.

The three were taken to hospitals. They were expected to survive.

“That’s the best news you can have,” he said. “All I care about is that those girls are going to live and have a second chance at life.”

Wiese said the moment was a reminder that officers “are trying to do the right thing.”

The rescue wasn’t the first time Wiese has jumped into action. He was the officer who arrested the suspect in the shootings at the Chabad of Poway in April 2019 that left Lori Lynn Gilbert-Kaye dead and three others wounded.

He later testified that he heard a radio dispatch regarding shots fired in Rancho Bernardo and raced off in that direction, at up to 130 mph, reaching the suspect’s car in about 10 minutes. He ordered John Timothy Earnest out of the car and handcuffed him.

The North San Diego Business Chamber last September recognized Wiese and other officers for heroism and courage in the shootings.

Wiese said Sunday that officers sign up with the police department because they want to protect the public. “We don’t do it for glory or a paycheck.”

©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune