Hero on bridge between life, death

| 12 Oct 2016 | 04:59

Julio De Leon, a doorman for 31 years at 221 West 82nd Street, was riding his bicycle and in the zone. Cycling across the George Washington Bridge, something caught his attention in his peripheral vision. He saw a dog tied up to the bridge’s guard rail, and he thought that was odd. On closer inspection, he saw a young man on the wrong side of the protective railing, with only inches to fall 200 feet into the Hudson River.

De Leon could see that the 19-year-old man was confused. De Leon unattached his cycling shoes from his bike and went over to the man and said, “Don’t do it! I love you. Think of your family.”

De Leon described how he had his hands raised up, and next the man moved dangerously close to the edge. Then De Leon grabbed the would-be jumper.

“When I held him,” De Leon says, recounting the incident, “at the same time I could see 200 feet down.”

He adds: “I believe that God put me in the right place at the right time. Not only that, but he gave me the control, the heart to stay very calm, and my hands were up, I don’t know why.”

The two made a connection.

“It was for me a very touching moment because he was like my son, and he hugged me and I hugged him. I tried to give a lot of support,” De Leon says. “He was totally confused, and I said you have to wait for police to come.”

At evening rush hour, George Washington Bridge traffic is crazy from New Jersey to the City, he said. The bridge was packed, and it would take a while, and De Leon finally surrendered the young man to the police.

The story was written up in the New York Times, bringing DeLeon due praise and attention. Also spotlighted: the issue of guard rails that are not high enough on the bridge. Had DeLeon not been there, this event might have been the year’s ninth suicide.

De Leon, 61, has been married for 34 years and has grown children, two sons and a daughter. He continues to receive praise, including from the boy’s family and strangers all over the world. DeLeon is going to also be honored later this month by the cycling advocate group, Transportation Alternatives.

Was this behavior in any way related to his job as a doorman? “Yes,” he says. “We like helping people, but I always say the real hero was my mother. Why? Because she taught me to love and respect fellow human beings. For me, this is the most important thing, because she taught me when I was young.”