A California police officer nearly lost his eyesight when he risked his life to save a suicidal man who was threatening to jump from a highway overpass.
California Highway Patrol Officer Dane Norem has spoken out for the first time to the Desert Sun about a bold rescue that changed his life forever and kept him away from the job he loves for three years of rehabilitation.
Nearly five years ago, in October 2012, Norem got a radio call that a suicidal man was threatening to jump from the La Sierra Avenue overpass in Riverside, California. The man’s legs were already dangling over the edge, and Norem knew that if the man jumped, not only would he die, the fall would threaten the lives of people driving on the busy highway below.
Norem rushed to the scene and found that the man was too far over the ledge for the officer to pull him back to safety. Instead, Norem gripped the man in a bear hug, and he was strong enough to keep the man from pulling away from him and jumping down.
But the suicidal man was armed with a knife, and soon began stabbing Norem in the face.
“When I got struck in the face, it didn’t really hurt,” Norem said. “It felt like I had been punched and it felt wet, like a water balloon had popped.
“I came to figure out later that was my eye.”
Indeed, the jumper stabbed the officer a total of seven times, including once in his right eye.
The dramatic rescue attempt was caught on the officer’s dashcam video:
The standoff could have easily ended with one or both of the men losing their lives, but an off-duty officer who has seen Norem driving with purpose on his way to the scene had followed behind to see what was going on. He approached the struggling men, and Norem told him to remove his baton from his belt to help fight off the knife attacker.
Eventually, a crowd gathered and additional police arrived to the scene. One officer shot the suspect with a beanbag round, disabling him so that he could be pulled to safety.
But even after emergency treatment, the damage to Norem’s eye was so severe that the pupil could not adjust to light, making it difficult to impossible for Norem to read faces of look at a television or his phone. He also couldn’t aim a gun, meaning he couldn’t do his job.
“Pretty much everyone thought I was done,” Norem told the Desert Sun.
“I was all but 100 percent certain that I was not going to return to the job. At that point, I was just wondering what I was going to do.”
For a time, Norem returned to the force to perform light duty, but became increasingly frustrated that his physical limitations kept him from the dangerous lifesaving work he knew and loved.
Eventually, he learned of a new, cutting-edge eye surgery technique that might give him another chance. He was accepted to a trial for the surgery, which put a prosthetic eye part that could regulate light in place of the damaged iris, restoring his vision.
He was able to return to duty in October 2015, just two months before the deadly San Bernardino terror attacks.
Asked by the Desert News if he would still stop and save the violent, suicidal man, Norem showed no regrets.
“Would I do it again?” Norem said. “I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I’m still on the job. I’m still taking those calls for help. So, yeah, I guess I’m still doing it.”
Feature photo: California Highway Patrol