MONESSEN (KDKA) — Thursday might have been a good day for 19-year-old James Womack to stay in bed.
“He knew he was real close to dying,” Monessen Police Lt. James Smith said. “Two more minutes in that water and he would have been gone.”
It began in the Armando’s Pizzeria parking lot just after 5 p.m. Womack was wanted for parole violations. Police had a warrant.
“Told him that he was under arrest and he decided it was going to be a good idea to run,” Smith said.
Run he did, crossing four lanes of Route 906, jumping the guardrail.
Tumbling down the hill, Womack leaped over railroad tracks, vaulting a pile of concrete slabs – all with Lt. Jim Smith in pursuit.
But it was on the banks of the Monongahela River that things got dicey. What James Womack had failed to notice was a 10-foot drop into the freezing river.
He hit the water and the current pushed him out into the river.
Following along the shore, Lt. Smith kept up with the drifting man.
“Talked to him and tried to coax him into staying conscious,” he said.
Weighted down by his boots and two jerseys, Womack was losing strength.
Dropping his gun belt and radio, Smith urged him to get to a tree overhanging the water then crawled out on the trunk, extended a sturdy branch and pulled Womack to safety.
“Started treating him for hypothermia, got the wet clothes off him,” Smith recalled.
Arriving paramedics took over.
“He thanked me for not letting him die,” Smith said.
“Our No. 1 objective is that everybody goes home as safe as possible – even the bad guys,” Smith said.
Monessen Police Chief Mark Gibson is proud of his officer.
Police say Womack was seen dropping a plastic baggie before the foot chase began and that it contained an ounce of cocaine. He was also charged with driving a stolen car.
After his rescue, Womack was taken to a hospital where his body temperature was a chilly 91 degrees. He remains in the Westmoreland County Jail.