Utica mayor saves suicidal man in Grosse Pointe Farms

Mayor’s regular job is as a public safety officer

By: K. Michelle Moran, Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published July 15, 2019

 Thom Dionne

Thom Dionne

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UTICA — Utica’s mayor was recognized for preventing a man from taking his own life during the early hours of July 7 in Grosse Pointe Farms.

In his regular full-time job, Mayor Thom Dionne works as a public safety officer for the city of Grosse Pointe Farms. According to a police report from the Grosse Pointe Farms Department of Public Safety, Dionne had seen a 24-year-old man from Sterling Heights parked in the driveway at Pier Park, which is right on Lake St. Clair at 350 Lake Shore Road, after 1 a.m.     

“I had approached him, and he was sitting on the grass between the road and the water’s edge — sitting down and he had his head in his hands, seated with his knees up. I’m like, ‘Hey man, is everything OK?’ And he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m just having a bad day.’”

Dionne mentioned to him that his car was parked in the wrong spot and asked him if he could move it.

“He was blocking the driveway of our park, so I said, ‘Could you please move your car, and then you are certainly welcome to come back over here and relax and sit down. I don’t want to bother you,’” Dionne said.

But roughly 30 minutes later, at around 1:58 a.m. July 7, Dionne saw the same man drive over the curb toward the seawall and Lake St. Clair.

“This time I’m going opposite of him. I’m going westbound on Lake Shore and he is going eastbound. I see his car slowly driving down Lake Shore. ... He’s on the water’s edge in the lane closest to the water, and he kind of slows down, and he turns right towards the water and his tire’s up over the curb.

“I know he said he was having a bad day. Now you see him up over the curb, driving to the water,” said Dionne.

Dionne explained why he had come back to check on the man.

“One of those things. As a responsibility, I asked him to move along. I wanted to make sure he was gone or make sure he didn’t have any major concerns that need to be addressed. I happened to think about him again and thought I should go check on him,” said Dionne.

Seeing the man’s move toward the water, Dionne activated his emergency lights and loudly called out for the driver to stop, and he also called for backup units, who arrived moments later to help.

Police approached the vehicle, which continued to periodically edge closer to the water.

“He was kind of creeping a foot here and a foot there, inching his way toward the water as we were trying to deal with him,” said Dionne.

Dionne said the driver didn’t respond to officer commands and refused to unlock his door or put the vehicle in park and continued to edge forward, so Dionne had to use his baton to break the driver’s side window, open the door and remove the driver from the vehicle, as well as put the vehicle in park.

“So, I don’t know what he’s going to do. Because he could be dangerous, you gotta take them fast, you know, because if I reach in the car and he guns it, I’m going with him, so sometimes guys in that mind frame take people with them,” he said.

A dashcam recorded the situation.

The driver, who was handcuffed initially, reportedly had some glass on his face from the broken window and was treated by medics. He was then taken to Ascension St. John Hospital for treatment and observation. Dionne completed required paperwork for the man’s committal.

At the hospital, the man told police that he was depressed because of recent stressors in his life.

“He’s had a series of troubles in the past. He’s a good person and had a series of unfortunate events happen,” Dionne said.

Police said the man’s sister told them that her brother had made statements on social media about wanting to end his life.

Dionne was praised by his peers for his work during the situation.

“There’s no doubt about it, (Dionne’s) diligence about returning to a scene a half-hour later most likely prevented an escalating incident,” Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen said. “It appeared it was an attempted suicide.”

Jensen said Dionne’s actions will be presented to the department’s Merit Board in January 2020 for consideration for a merit award.

“It was definitely great police work,” Jensen said. “He did a great job. He’s a great officer.”

Dionne said he was just really glad that the other officers were there to help out, including Officer Jim Lebow, Officer John Ross, Officer Dereck Lazarski and Lt. George Bloomfield.

“I would have never been able to approach the car without these guys. ... Well, I mean I would have, but I wouldn’t have certainly felt safe about it. Once my crew is there and my guys and I have the backup, then you feel a lot more able to get the job done.”

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