RISING SUN — Helen Trimble doesn’t think of herself as a hero. But back in December 1994 that’s what a lot of people called her.
Trimble, 59, of Rising Sun, was living in Brooklyn at the time and commuting to a job in Nyack, N.Y. The drive took her through Manhattan and across the George Washington Bridge. It was an hour and 20 minute drive, so she listened to Howard Stern on the radio, who broadcasted from 6 to 10 a.m. on WXRK-FM.
Around 8:10 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1994, Stern took a call from a man standing at midspan on the north sidewalk of the George Washington Bridge. The caller identified himself as Emilio Bonilla, 29, of the Bronx. He said he was planning to jump from the bridge after making the call to Stern on his cellular phone.
The New York Times reported the next day that Stern said on the show: “I don’t know if this is real or not, but there’s some guy on the phone, he’s got a cellular phone with him, and he’s about to jump from the George Washington Bridge and kill himself.” Co-host Robin Quivers replied, “Really?”
Trimble heard the call live on her car radio, and just happened to be driving on the bridge. “And then I thought, ‘Oh my God, if I see him what am I going to do?” Trimble recalled.
This Monday, almost 20 years later, Trimble will be on Howard Stern’s Sirius Satellite Radio show to recount the events that day for a “this week in history” piece. From her lane on the bridge, Trimble saw the caller perched on the edge. Being a former rugby player, she slammed on her brakes — irking the commuters behind her — and tackled the caller in a bear hug.
Trimble held him until police showed up seven minutes later.
“I stopped my car in the middle of the bridge and put a hug on him. He was shaking, and he was talking to you, and his face would lighten every once in a while. I don’t know what you were saying to him. But he would lighten up and slowly, slowly, he started to relax a little bit more,” Trimble told Stern later, according to an 1994 article in the Los Angeles Times.
In 1994, Trimble’s son, Richie, was not yet 10. She remembers practicing karate with him and joking she would become a hero like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When she actually did save someone’s life, she said she couldn’t believe people were actually calling her a hero.
When she tackled him Trimble said she did not realize that she was putting her own life in danger. At first, the caller became angry and called her a “fat cow.”
Trimble credits Stern for helping the caller not to jump.
“He got him to the point where he calmed down through joking and banter back and forth that Emilio was no longer a threat to himself or to me,” Trimble said.
Later on, the caller sent her a two-page handwritten thank you note, which she still has. “I want you to know that your (sic) the true hero. (other than Howard.) You were the first one there for me physically,” he wrote.
The experience taught her to live each day to the fullest. She passed the advice on to her son, Richie, who is now trying to break the world record for riding on the world’s tallest bike.
“I realized any day could be our last day,” Trimble said. “Live your dreams because tomorrow may never never come.”