By Linda N. Weller
ALTON, Ill. — The city's police chief is praising an officer who used CPR to save a woman's life last weekend when someone dumped her from a car along a city street after she overdosed on heroin.
Alton Police Chief David Hayes also lauded a Brighton couple who were riding a motorcycle in that Hunterstown neighborhood, saw the distressed woman and called 911 at 12:29 p.m. Sunday, as well as Alton Fire Department paramedics who revived her at the scene.
"She would have died if not for the motorcycle riders, (officer) Manny Espinoza and the Alton Fire Department," Hayes said about Pfc. Manuel "Manny" Espinoza, who joined the Alton Police Department in 2000.
"Manny is enjoying the gratification of saving a human life," Hayes said. "In our work, there is no greater reward than saving a human life. Not many police officers have the opportunity to save someone's life."
Espinoza arrived at 12:31 p.m. Sunday at East Fourth Street at Plum Street, moving the 27-year-old Cottage Hills woman from steps on which she was sprawled to a grassy area. He performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation for three minutes on the woman, who Hayes said was unconscious, appeared not to be breathing and was turning purple.
Police discovered later that the woman had injected heroin along with other people, who dumped her along the street when they saw she had overdosed.
Espinoza, 33, worked chest compressions on the woman. Alton Fire Department paramedics arrived at 12:34 p.m. to take over the CPR and administer an injection of Narcan, which neutralizes the effects of narcotics, Hayes said.
The shot got the woman breathing again and brought her back to consciousness.
"The Fire Department played a major role in saving her," Hayes said.
Espinoza modestly said Wednesday that his actions "are still hitting me.
"I just really hope she sees how far it went and does what is necessary so it wasn't in vain," Espinoza said. "I hope she makes the changes she needs to make."
Espinoza said he was several blocks away at the police station, driving to investigate the 911 call.
"It all happened so quickly, I didn't think anything about it," he said. "I thought it was too late. It was amazing. Once (the paramedics) took over, she was up and talking."
He said he does not consider himself a hero, and praised the couple who stopped, called 911 and stayed by the woman until rescuers arrived.
"I was doing my job; I was doing what I was trained to do," he said. "I would like to think any other officer or person trained in this would do the same thing. This was an extreme case of the community and police working together. Luckily for her, it all fell in line."
Hayes said he plans to nominate Espinoza for lifesaving awards, which would include receiving a pin to wear on his police uniform throughout the rest of his career.
"Not many officers get these pins," the chief said.
Alton officers just recently were re-certified in revised protocol for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, taught by Alton firefighters.
The woman who called 911 spoke to a reporter on condition that her name not be used in a news story.
"It was strictly a Sunday afternoon ride with my husband," she said. "We both looked over, and there she was. We pulled over, and I called 911. It was very surreal, something that happens on TV. You don't come across something like this.
"I couldn't believe the outcome, that it was the same woman lying there was the same one (revived) on the gurney. Her feet were purple. My husband had a hard time with this. He just couldn't believe someone would dump someone with no thought" of what would happen to her.
The woman who made the call said the couple feels good about being there to help save the woman's life.
LifeStar Ambulance Service paramedics took the woman to Saint Anthony's Hospital emergency room, where she was treated, then released.
Hayes said police continue investigating the incident. Police plan to take their findings to the Madison County State's Attorney's Office for consideration of charges against the people who left her to die, and possibly the woman herself for allegedly having the drug in her system.
The identities of any of the people who are charged with a crime will be published.
"The investigation continues, because we believe the people who dropped her off knew she had overdosed," he said. "Instead of taking her to a hospital, they dumped her off on the street."
An Alton Police Department report said the victim told officers that she had a male friend drive her to a female friend's home in Alton between 11:30 a.m. and noon Sunday. She said she, two other women and a man drove to St. Louis to buy heroin, using her $50.
The four people returned to the friend's home in Alton, where they all shot up the heroin, the report said. The woman who overdosed said she used "two buttons" of heroin because "she had been on methadone and was using a lot of heroin to little effect," the report said.
The male told the victim that if she overdosed, he would put her in the shower to revive her, the report said. She told police she remembers injecting the drug and cleaning the needle, then nothing more until she awoke while being treated by paramedics.
That woman's overdose is indicative of a wave of heroin use hitting the area, with a stronger, more deadly form with a higher purity level than in previous years, Hayes said. He said there have been 47 drug overdose deaths in the county so far this year; Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn said Tuesday night that 21 deaths are attributable to heroin.
"It is the epitome of the heroin problem," Hayes said about Sunday's overdose. "People are using heroin, and using it to the extent that they 'fall out,' or pass out from overdosing. They all know of the risks when they do it. Kids are dying everywhere.
"We know when the heroin epidemic took off in the 1970s, and crack cocaine in the early 1990s - you could put both of them together, and it would not equal the amount of heroin deaths" currently happening.
Hayes said police will hold programs in the Alton School District and private schools regarding drug usage, including heroin, as part of national Red Ribbon Week. Police will give three, hour-long presentations Oct. 25 at Alton Middle School, two weeks later in other schools and at Alton High School on Nov. 16.
Reprinted with permission from The Telegraph