Matters of life and death

By Karen Zautyk

In her wake, Hurricane Irene left behind uncounted stories. But there are two in particular — one involving tragedy and heroism; one, what can only be called a miracle — that demand remembering for a long time.
The tragedy occurred in Kearny on Sunday morning after the brunt of the hurricane had passed. At about 8:30 a.m., Kearny police received a 911 call that someone was trapped in a submerged car in the area of Harrison and Bergen Aves.
When police and firefighters arrived, they found the vehicle abandoned in the middle of Harrison Ave. under about two feet of water, according to Sgt. John Manley of the KPD.
Witnesses said they saw the occupant, later identified as Ronald Dawkins, 47, of Orange, get out of the stranded car and begin wading through the flood toward the U.S. Postal Service central facility at 1200 Harrison Ave.
What Dawkins, a Postal Service supervisor, didn’t realize was that a drainage creek located north of the avenue had overflowed its banks and merged with the waters on the roadway.
As he approached the entrance to the property, he inadvertently stepped directly into the creek, which was concealed beneath the high waters, and was immediately swept away, disappearing under 10 to 12 feet of flowing water.
Another Postal Service supervisor, Christopher Johnson, witnessed the accident, ran to the site and, at risk to his own life, dove into the waters, in what Manley described as “a valiant effort” to save the victim.
Kearny Det. John Plaugic, referring to the rescuer as a “hero,” said Johnson made two separate attempts to save Dawkins, “but the current was too swift and too strong.” The victim reportedly was also in shock and flailing as Johnson tried to grab him. The raging waters carried Dawkins away.
Kearny police and Fire Department units, under the direction of the incident commander, Fire Chief Steve Dyl, searched the area by boat for two hours before finally finding Dawkins’ body about 100 yards from the point where he initially fell into the creek.
The second story began in Nutley and ended in Belleville. It seems too incredible, but authorities say it happened.
At approximately 1 a.m. Sunday, Nutley police received a 911 call reporting that a woman had just jumped off the Dock St. ledge and into the Passaic River. (Dock St. is the name of that small parking area/fishing dock that abuts the entrance to Rt. 21 North on the Nutley side of the DeJessa Bridge.)
The witness, a Belleville resident whom Nutley Det. Anthony Montanari brought to police headquarters and interviewed, said the man stated he had driven over the bridge from Lyndhurst and was turning onto River Road when he saw a woman running alone, eastward in the rain down Park Ave.
The concerned motorist told detectives he pulled into the Dunkin’ Donuts lot at the corner of River and Park, turned his car around and followed her back toward the bridge and onto the dock.
He reportedly asked her, “Are you okay?” but instead of responding, she jumped into the raging river.
Montanari said Nutley police lit up the waters under the bridge on the chance that they might find her clinging to a piling, but she was not there.
The Nutley PD also notified all the towns downriver as to what had happened, to be on the lookout for the woman. Or, more likely, her body.
And then a report came in from the Belleville PD.
Police from that town had just found a 47-year-old woman fitting the description of the jumper walking along River Road.
She reportedly told them that, yes, she had been in the river but had managed to climb out. Exactly where and how are not known at this point.
The woman, whose identity has not yet been released, was transported to Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville.
Authorities reportedly have no doubt this was an attempted suicide.
At the hospital, the woman is said to have told police,  “God didn’t want me yet.”

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