Dual suicide thwarted

Police persistence breaks up‘suicide pact’

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Williston Police Sgt. Brian Claffy saved the lives of a Chittenden County couple on Monday night after both were found unconscious in an attempted suicide in Williston, according to police.

Police received a call about a “swordfight in progress” at a local storage facility on Williston Road at about 11 p.m. Williston Police Sgt. Bart Chamberlain (acting as a spokesperson since Claffy was not on duty prior to press time), said Claffy, along with officers from state and other local police departments, headed to the address given by a cell phone caller, but on arrival could find no indication of a swordfight or any other activity.

Chamberlain said that “on an inkling,” Claffy and other officers decided to check other Williston storage facilities “just to be sure.” Claffy headed for Extra Space Storage at the corner of Industrial Ave. and Williston Road, where he saw some tire tracks that did not appear to be fresh, but “decided to enter the facility and look around.”

Chamberlain noted that storage companies give access codes to police departments so they can get onto the grounds in case of emergencies. But, he said, the access code didn’t work in this case. Instead of giving up, Claffy managed to push his way through the entry gates anyway, Chamberlain said.

Claffy followed the tracks, and heard music coming from one of the units. He called for assistance, and banged on the overhead door repeatedly, but no one answered. Claffy and other Williston officers finally rolled up the door, and found a car with the engine running and the car windows open. Inside were a man and woman, unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning.

They quickly shut off the car, and dragged the man and woman outside. An ambulance took the couple to Fletcher Allen Health Care, where police say they were treated for carbon monoxide exposure. Chamberlain was unsure when they would be released from the hospital, noting that the woman might undergo psychiatric evaluation. Had it not been for Claffy’s persistence, “they would’ve died,” Chamberlain said.

The couple, a 40-year-old man from Milton and 34-year-old woman from Winooski, had entered into a “suicide pact,” according to Chamberlain. He said the caller turned out to be the woman, who had “a change of heart” and secretly placed the call to police after leaving the storage unit to go outside. She then returned to the car after making the call. She gave the wrong address, however, causing the subsequent confusion.

“There were so many opportunities for (Claffy) to say it was a bogus call,” Chamberlain said. “Were it not for him, two people would have died.”

Police aren’t sure why the woman reentered the unit after placing the call, or why she said it was a swordfight. Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick speculated that, “she was scrambling for what to say and wanted officers to respond. She felt she had to get back in the car, which is odd.”

Dimmick praised the efforts of officers handling the call, most notably Claffy.

“Sgt. Claffy’s great police instincts and never-quit attitude saved two lives on this night, and again showed why he is a credit to the Town of Williston and our department.”

According to the Williston Police Department’s Web site, Sgt. Claffy is one of two uniform supervisors in the Uniform Patrol Services division of the Williston Police Department. He joined the department in 1998, and previously served eight years with the U.S. Coast Guard, stationed in California; Long Island, N.Y.; and Burlington.