How a Sacramento County Crisis Negotiator Helped Prevent Suspect’s Suicide on Highway 50

SACRAMENTO -- A man with a gun stopped traffic on Highway 50 on Mother's Day.

Traffic was backed up for miles as California Highway Patrol vehicles scattered and a suicidal man sat in a lone red car with a gun to his head.

Between that man and death was Detective Nate Grgich.

"What’s going on to our brains is how do we get him to a place where he makes the decision to come out and surrender peacefully?" the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office crisis negotiator told FOX40.

On Sunday, Grgich and his counterpart with Sacramento Police Department were successfully able to talk that suicidal man into surrendering after two and a half hours. Grgich said it was the young Sacramento police officer's first time ever using her crisis negotiation skills.

But Grgich said even after saving a life, there’s not much celebrating. He said he has had moments that were not so successful.

"And those are the hard ones," Grgich said.

At the sheriff's office, being a crisis negotiator is voluntary. Grgich said it's a calling -- and an important one.

In just the last two weeks, law enforcement saved two suicidal men, including the suspect on Highway 50.

Earlier in the month, a man ready to jump from a Highway 99 overpass also blocked traffic for hours, adding to the pressure of the moment.

"Each one of them is an emotional investment. Each one of them have their own set of circumstances that are challenging. Each one them take a little bit out of you," Grgich told FOX40. "Physical exhaustion and by the end of it, everybody is just like, 'I want to take a nap.'"

It takes more than 40 hours of training with the FBI and yearly classes afterward to become a crisis negotiator.

When you’re really out here. and someone’s life is actually on the line, Grgich said there are instincts that kick in that you can’t learn in training.

"You know, we have the desire. We’re the long-winded ones," he said. "We like to talk. We’re the ones who no one is a stranger in the room."

Negotiators often have to monitor social media for commenters who may be writing "jump" or "I’m sick of waiting in traffic" because often the subject is also looking at social media.

If you are having thoughts about suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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