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Taking search and rescue to a new level

Sheriff's Department volunteer is honored for saving a suicidal man on the freeway.

September 20, 2011|By Veronica Rocha, veronica.rocha@latimes.com
  • Reserve Chief Mike Leum. (Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)
Reserve Chief Mike Leum. (Courtesy of the Los Angeles…

On any given day, Mike Leum packs his car with emergency rescue equipment in the chance his day goes from mundane to a heart-pounding, life-or-death situation.

For the chief of the Montrose Search and Rescue team, it can happen anywhere, any time. One such instance — in which Leum saved a bloodied, suicidal man who was running into freeway traffic — got him the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s gold Meritorious Conduct Medal earlier this month.

“You are responsible to the community, no matter what,” Leum said.

On May 15, 2010, Leum, his wife and 14-year-old son came upon the suicidal man as they were driving on the Foothill (210) Freeway near La Crescenta for a trip to the beach.

His clothes were bloodied, and he was running into oncoming traffic.

“We are always in the right place in the right time,” said Leum’s wife, Nancy.

Mike Leum pulled over and waited for the road to clear before running over to the man, who he thought had been struck by a car.

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The man, who had been a patient at Olive View Hospital, was holding a knife and bleeding from self-inflicted cuts to his neck.

Mike Leum tried to calm the distraught man, who kept trying to run into oncoming traffic to kill himself, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

At one point, the man tried to leap into the path of a school bus and told Leum, “That would have been a good one.”

Meanwhile, Nancy Leum notified authorities, who shut down the freeway as her husband stayed with the man.

“I was afraid for Mike,” his wife said. “It was scary watching.”

A volunteer with the search-and-rescue team for 19 years, Mike Leum was able to disarm and restrain the man.

“I just really felt bad for him,” Mike Leum said, adding that he couldn’t help but wonder if the man had a family.

A California Highway Patrol officer helped take the man into custody.

Sheriff’s officials said Mike Leum’s quick, decisive actions to rescue the man while risking his own life earned him one of the department’s top honors.

His actions not only saved the man from being seriously hurt or killed, but also diverted a potential collision and injuries to other motorists, sheriff’s officials said.

“It’s nice, but for me, it’s not my motivation,” he said, adding that he would continue to volunteer for the department and community until they tell him to stop.

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