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Suicide Victim in Water 64 Minutes

March 5, 1986

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A suicidal man who jumped into the Allegheny River spent an hour in 37- degree water while a police boat sent to rescue him stalled and officers, wrongly thinking he was already dead, towed him half a mile to shore.

Paramedics detected vital signs when Peerce Platt, 58, of Pittsburgh, was brought ashore Tuesday, but he died at St. Francis Hospital more than three hours later. Police said he had spent 64 minutes in the water.

Glenn Cannon, director of the city’s Emergency Medical Services, said the police techniques ″were rather poor.″

″They (police) were unaware of the fact that a person could appear dead, but could be resuscitated,″ said Dr. Michael Heller, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert in emergency medicine.

City Public Safety Director John Norton said his men ″did everything humanly possible to bring the man into the boat and to sustain life.″

A passer-by near a bridge about six miles upriver from downtown Pittsburgh reported that Platt had jumped over a railing and into the water at about 11:40 a.m. Tuesday, authorities said.

Police said they sent their river patrol within five minutes from a downtown station on the Monongahela River. Police officers said they did not notify the Coast Guard because they already were on their way.

″I was shocked to hear about it,″ said Petty Officer Michael Nelson, who dispatches Coast Guard units from nearby Sewickley.

Police said their primary rescue boat was out of service and the secondary boat stalled for four minutes on its 25-minute journey.

Police officers David Herr and Robert Adelsberg found Platt wedged under a barge where the current had carried him and, believing him dead, used a 6-foot spiked pole to pry him out, authorities said.

Herr and Adelsberg spent 15 minutes trying to lift the 200-pound man, weighed down by a waterlogged parka, into their 18-foot boat, authorities said.

″They repeatedly attempted to pull the victim into the boat,″ Norton said.

Failing that, the officers then tied a rope around Platt’s waist and ankles and towed him a half-mile to paramedics on shore, authorities said.

″It was a judgment call to go to the shore,″ Norton said. ″The officers felt that was best instead of staying and floundering around in the water.″

Herr and Adelsberg could not be reached for comment Wednesday because they were away from their post on duty. And they would be required to clear any statements with Norton’s office first, said special services dispatcher Jack Gilkey.

A police doctor said Platt was clinically dead when taken ashore, but paramedics detected signs of life and rushed him to St. Francis, where doctors said his temperature had dropped to 89 degrees. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Despite attempts to revive him, he died about 4 1/2 hours after he jumped into the water.

Allegheny County Coroner Joshua Perper said Wednesday that Platt died of drowning and exposure to cold. ″There was no trauma from the dragging which related to the death,″ he said.

Heller, who advises city paramedics, said police treated Platt as a body rather than as a patient.

″It is a medical fact that people who suffer cold-water drowning can be resuscitated for long periods of time even if they appear to be dead,″ Heller said. ″Many of those patients, if they are treated aggressively, can be revived.″

Cannon said paramedics should have been taken aboard the boat.

″The victim has to be resuscitated as soon as possible,″ Cannon said. ″Even if rescuers had been able to pull him into the boat, that wouldn’t have been enough.″

Norton said that while the incident pointed out the need to outfit river police with diving equipment, the department probably will not increase the number of officers in the boats.

Platt, who was married with three children, had worked as executive creative director for an advertising company in Pittsburgh. He was credited with planning advertisements for U.S. Steel Corp. and Westinghouse Electric Corp.

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