Rescuer recalls jump into riverPublished 10:48pm Saturday, January 19, 2013
Driving through downtown Selma has always been something special for Doug Bacon, a graduate student at Auburn University studying integrated design and construction.
“I’ve always enjoyed Selma, just driving though,” 29-year-old Bacon said. “To me it’s one of the most beautiful towns in the South.”
While driving back to Auburn on Tuesday, Jan. 8 after visiting friends in Greensboro, Bacon took his usual route through historic Selma, driving down Broad Street. However, as he made his way over the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, he witnessed something that would alter his life forever.
“When I got to the bridge, cars had kind of slowed down and I saw someone’s car parked on the other side,” Bacon recalled. “Then I saw a woman on the other side standing on the outside of the guard rail.”
After seeing the woman, Bacon said he looked briefly back to the road and then returned his eyes to the woman, only to realize she was no longer there.
“I think it’s one of those things that you don’t want to believe you just saw,” Bacon said. “I wanted to think she slipped or maybe she was getting something, but deep down I knew she had jumped.”
In the short time frame after witnessing the woman vanish, Bacon said he knew what he had to do — there was no hesitation.
After parking his Jeep at the bottom of the bridge, near the “Welcome to Selma” sign, Bacon said he and another man, who had witnessed the jump, briefly stood on the banks of the Alabama River, trying to figure out what to do.
“We just kind of stood there, side–by–side. It was really quiet,” Bacon remembered. “Then I asked the man, ‘Do you see her?”
Looking out into the water, Bacon said it was difficult to see the woman behind the large cement bridge supports. After searching hard, Bacon said he saw the woman bobbing up between the small waves, gasping for breath.
“I could tell she was struggling,” he said. “She would kind of throw her arms out and get a breath then dip back under.”
It was then that Bacon began to remove his clothing and made his way down to the riverbank.
“I think I yelled out ‘I’m coming,’ but I can’t really remember now,” he said.
With adrenaline pumping through his body, Bacon said he began to swim through the cold water to meet the woman.
“When I got within arms reach of her I remember she had a really shocked look on her face,” Bacon said.
Although the woman didn’t directly say “save me,” Bacon said he knew she wanted to be rescued by the way she willingly let him take her in his arms.
“She didn’t put up a fight at all,” he said. “I think deep down, she wanted to be saved.”
Upon reaching the woman, Bacon said he tried to recall how to correctly save someone from drowning, but with so much adrenaline running through his veins his mind was clouded, so he just grabbed her and tried to swim back.
“I just remember breathing really, really hard,” he said. “Then when we got about half way back, I remember my head started going under.”
The rest, Bacon said, is kind of foggy.
“I made my way up the bank and then just kind of watched everything unfold,” he said. “[The woman] had muttered some words, but I don’t remember what they were, but I knew she was still alive.”
After seeing several police officers and first-responders, Bacon said he felt a weight begin to lift, knowing the woman would be OK.
“It was all really surreal, I didn’t know what to think,” Bacon said of saving the woman and dragging her up on to the muddy bank. “There was just enough time to realize something had to be done, but not enough time to really second guess it.”
The woman who jumped off the Edmund Pettus Bridge, later identified as Opelika resident Priscilla Woods, was airlifted to Baptist Medical Center in Montgomery.
“I think the most important thing is that she’s going to be alright,” Bacon said of Woods, who has since reached out to him to say thank you.
Bacon said he hopes he gave Woods a second chance, and feels that because of the incident he will always have a strong connection to her and to Selma.
“I hope if people hear the story one day, they’ll take it and just get the lesson to help your fellow citizen when they need it,” Bacon said. “I think that’s what it’s really all about, lending a helping hand to someone when they need it most.”