By Attorney David Engler
The decent looking guy is telling the YPD officer not to come closer or he will jump. It is not known exactly if the officer knew that John Sylvester had 16 years earlier held his girlfriend in a headlock and shot her point blank in the face. He did 10 to 28 years for attempted murder but on this Sunday he was sitting on the edge of the Market Street Bridge spanning the Mahoning River. Of course no one in the Valley wants to go swimming in the Mahoning since its waters have long ago been polluted by the mills that once lined the river from Lowellville through Struthers, Youngstown, Girard and Warren. And John wasn’t interested in swimming. He told the police that he had forgotten what happened earlier that day. (The insanity defense didn’t work 16 years ago but maybe this time he could pull it off)
Earlier that day John had erupted into a rage against his new wife. His control over her was slipping. She dared to tell him she would not tolerate his rages and odd sense of jealousy. The fight had been simmering for months. They were living apart. He returned that Sunday to her parents’ house in a middle income neighborhood filled with the sound of children playing at the first days of summer break. He thought there was a chance he could work things out with his beautiful, smart and well-liked wife. But his head was instantly filled with fury when he found out that she was moving on and had just recently been out talking with another man. The butcher knife was on the counter. Thinking wasn’t necessary. She would learn quickly that it could only be him.
When they first met he was sweet and accommodating. At first there was a large blank spot in his history that she had no idea about. Then her friends reported to her the rumors of what happened to his first girlfriend. If only she had used Court View she could have seen the sentence and crime was more serious than he said. Why was she so naive to believe his story that he was wrestling the gun from his girlfriend when it went off. He said he was very young and it was a terrible case of teenage hormones, booze and an angry girlfriend. The justice system sucked he told her. By the time doubts started to creep in…the baby was on the way.
But this was not the time for self-doubt. She could feel the slicing of the knife into her skin and her only thought was to flee and at all costs protect her son. It was the stuff where Post Traumatic Stress Disorders come from. Fight or flee. She did both.
This bright day John was sitting on the bridge wondering whether to jump and not face what would certainly be a sentence that puts him behind bars for at least twenty years if not a life sentence if the prosecutor rings him up on attempted murder and kidnapping. But either way he did not want to go back to prison. He might have been decent looking and a fast talker but he was never a match for the real street gangsters that run the joint.
What did this mild mannered time hardened cop tell him. Sargent Lomax works family crimes and has seen a daily dose of beat up women, abused children, drug addled kids and their parents enough to last five careers if it wasn’t for his luck to be a cop in one of the toughest city’s in America. He did his job. He makes no value judgments other than his job is to save lives. He would not make a judgment even over the life of someone so vile and despicable that would shoot a girlfriend in the face, then slash his baby’s mother and infant son’s foot sixteen years later.
The negotiator had learned some basic skills in classes but almost all of it came from years of dealing with the abused and their abusers. More than anything Lomax had learned long ago that judgments were better left for a judge, jury or ultimately God. He had a job to do. In between his words of encouraging John off the ledge words flashed through his mind. They were never spoken. Words like “John it is not that much of a drop or there is nothing left for you here or save everybody the effort and take the first step…it’s easy”. No he said the boy should have a father and he needed help to calm the demons and people still cared about him. The Sargent spoke in calm words that this was no way to end this story.
He came off the edge of the bridge.
Author’s note: The stories are true but license is taken to tell these tales of love, loss and the heartbreaks that happen in families. I do not divulge confidences of my client’s unless they ask me to. I practice family law, criminal law and fight for people whose backs are against the walls. Every day I come across ordinary people like Sargent Lomax who do extraordinary work. It is my privilege to share these thoughts with you. The picture is from the Tribune Chronicle