By Mary Thurwachter
Three Lantana police officers were given lifesaving awards — and a standing ovation — for having prevented two suicide attempts on I-95 overpasses in September.
Police Chief Sean Scheller, who made the presentations during the Nov. 25 Town Council meeting, shared the details, and in one case video from the police car, of the rescues.
On Sept. 24, Officer Ngin Tuang responded to I-95 and West Lantana Road regarding a suicidal woman atop the overpass, Scheller said. Tuang establish rapport with the woman to distract her. During the conversation, Tuang was able to inch close enough to grab her from the railing and pull her to safety.
“Officer Tuang’s swift and decisive action clearly saved this woman’s life and may have prevented additional injury or death on an unsuspecting motorist traveling on the interstate,” Scheller said.
On Sept. 29, police were called to the I-95 overpass at Hypoluxo Road, where a man was straddling the guardrail above the southbound lanes of the interstate.
Officer Jacquelyn Cucca talked to the man until she and her partner, Officer Luis Morales, were able to get close enough to pull him off the wall. Scheller, who showed a video captured by a squad car camera, praised Cucca for her patience and calming demeanor, and both officers for their work.
“Their decisive action and teamwork clearly saved this man’s life and may have prevented additional deaths or injuries to the unsuspecting motorists below,” Scheller said.
“This doesn’t happen often,” he said, referring to suicide attempts from overpasses, “and I’m so proud of these officers.”
Among other police honored at the meeting was Officer Elizabeth Waldkoetter, who received the Employee of the Third Quarter award for leading the department’s efforts to collect and deliver supplies to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian.
“Elizabeth worked diligently with town staff and local residents in coordinating relief efforts for those dramatically affected in the Bahamas,” Scheller said. Waldkoetter secured a local vessel, which made several trips to the Bahamas.
In other news, Town Manager Deborah Manzo introduced the town’s new development services director, Nicole Dritz, effective Nov. 18.
Dritz, 30, has worked for the town for five years and has been the town clerk. She replaces David Thatcher, who resigned in October after 19 years with the town.
Her responsibilities will include managing the building division, code enforcement, planning and economic development functions. She will oversee the town’s redevelopment efforts, which include drafting codes, creating land use categories, amending the comprehensive plan and developing strategies for commercial and residential revitalization.
Dritz has a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning from FAU and served as the town’s community planner for three years. She also served as assistant public works director and interim library director.
Until a new clerk is hired, Dritz will do double duty as clerk and development services director.
In other action, the Town Council gave Manzo a glowing evaluation and a 6% pay increase — from $148,542 a year to $157,455. Her contract was extended until 2023.