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Motorist prevents man’s leap off bridge

Police say rescuer risked his own life

Davin Robinson was headed to Maine when he spotted a man on the side of a bridge. He wound up pulling the man to safety. Davin Robinson was headed to Maine when he spotted a man on the side of a bridge. He wound up pulling the man to safety. (Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / March 7, 2010

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Davin Robinson was driving across the Piscataqua River on a bridge that connects New Hampshire and Maine when something caught his eye: a man with a jug of liquor standing near the railing, more than 130 feet above the wind-swept water.

Robinson, a 50-year-old software engineer from Wilbraham, said he was in a rush to get to his second home in Maine and almost kept going Friday at 2 p.m.

But then he thought better of it. He stopped his pickup on busy Interstate 95, backed up, and walked over to the man, who had by then climbed over the railing and was teetering on the edge of the cantilevered arch bridge on the Portsmouth, N.H., side.

What followed, authorities say, was a nail-biting rescue.

As traffic whizzed by for the next several minutes, Robinson, a veteran rock climber, stood face to face with the distraught, intoxicated man, whose back was to the water, and exhorted him not to jump. At one point, the man let go of the railing, and Robinson realized he might fall backward, so Robinson grabbed him under the armpits.

Robinson couldn’t hold him long, so he thought quickly. “Can you give me a hug?’’ he said. “Just one last hug?’’

The man did, and Robinson yanked him back over the railing. Within seconds, two other passersby, a woman and her adult son, ran over and tried to console the despondent man. Three police officers arrived and took him to Portsmouth Regional Hospital, where he was admitted for a psychiatric evaluation.

Police, who withheld the identity of the man yesterday but said he was a 58-year-old Rochester, N.H., resident, called Robinson a hero.

But Robinson said he was motivated by adrenaline and a sense of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God.

“I felt sad, mostly, that someone could end up in a situation like that,’’ said Robinson, who broke down while pleading with the man. “In the wrong set of circumstances, that could have been you and me. We think we’re invulnerable, but life can sneak up on you.’’

Portsmouth police Lieutenant Rodney McQuate, one of the officers who went to the bridge, said the man could have easily pulled Robinson over the edge.

“He put his own life on the line to save a life,’’ said McQuate, who figures he has responded to five people threatening to jump from that span during his 28 years on the force, including two who leaped to their deaths.

Nathalie Leclair, the 47-year-old Kittery, Maine, woman who rushed to help with her 21-year-old son, Nathan Cairo, said the despondent man struggled with Robinson after being pulled to safety and even tried to clamber over the rail again.

Leclair, whose 28-year-old daughter, Tiffany Cairo-Freeman, died Monday from cystic fibrosis, said she got down on the pavement with the man, hugged him, and told him that she had just lost her daughter.

“He wasn’t happy to hear that,’’ said Leclair. “And I said, ‘No, she sent us here to be with you.’ ’’

Leclair had been driving south from Maine when she first spotted the man on the bridge, made a U-turn on the New Hampshire side, and went back to help.

“It was amazing how many cars drove by, and nobody even stopped,’’ she said.

It was unclear to Robinson, Leclair, and McQuate why the man was despondent. McQuate said he was intoxicated and had been holding a mostly empty half-gallon bottle of coffee-flavored brandy.

After the rescue, Robinson rushed to his father’s home in Maine to remove a fallen tree before sunset.

Then he drove to his house in Friendship, Maine, where he told his wife, Diane, about the incident.

“She gave me a hug,’’ he said.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.