Va. deputy praised for crisis intervention in attempted suicide

Deputy Thomas Parnham credits special crisis training with his successful response


Lee Tolliver
The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK COUNTY, Va. — It seemed like a routine assignment earlier this month — extract a renter from their home after serving an eviction notice a week before.

It didn’t even appear the person was home after Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Parnham and the landlord knocked several times on the door.

Norfolk County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Parnham credits crisis intervention training with his success in saving the life of a suicidal man. (Photo/Norfolk County Sheriff's Office)
Norfolk County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Parnham credits crisis intervention training with his success in saving the life of a suicidal man. (Photo/Norfolk County Sheriff's Office)

But once in the house, routine went out the window.

Parnham quickly became thankful he had gone through specialized crisis intervention training, because for this encounter, he was going to need it.

The man had attempted to kill himself by tying a cord to a bed post, then around his neck before jumping off the other side.

“His eyes were rolling in the back of his head and were twitching," said Parnham, a 13-year veteran of the office. "I thought he was already gone.”

Parnham tried to get the cord untied from the bed post, so he could get enough slack to untie the other end from around the man’s neck.

“He let out a heavy gasp when I got it loose,” the 41-year-old Norfolk native said.

That’s when the training kicked in.

“There was a cord outside the bedroom, so I realized this was his second attempt,” said Parnham, a master deputy. "He started crying and trying to talk to me. He had been dealt some pretty bad hands recently. His mom had passed and he had lost his job.

“I guess the eviction was just more than he could take. He said he just didn’t want to live anymore.”

Parnham said the intervention training helped him communicate better with the man and keep him calm until police and a medical unit arrived. He had faced a similar situation last year that went very differently.

“It was a year ago with an eviction,” he said. "It was pills and a belt around their neck. I called EMS and let the medics take over.

“The training taught me to be more empathetic to the person and deal with things until help arrived.”

Sheriff’s deputies first started the crisis intervention training with the police department to better deal with situations at the jail. But superiors quickly realized they needed more specialized training and started their own program.

Since August, 110 of the 385 deputies have taken the training. About 80 had already taken the police department’s training.

Officials said the training will come into play often and hope everyone responds the way Parnham did.

“I am extremely proud of master deputy Parnham,” Sheriff Joe Baron said in a written statement. “It’s not every day that you get a chance to truly change the trajectory of someone’s life. Not only did he react quickly, but he stayed calm and relied on his CIT training to truly make a difference.”

Parnham cringes at the notion he’s some sort of hero.

“This is just something that comes with the job, and the training really makes it easier,” he said. "They’re doing some big deal for me, but I don’t think I went above and beyond.

“I just did something I think most anybody else would have done in that situation.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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