No. 17: Teen thanks Costa Mesa police for rescuing her from jumping off freeway bridge

By Jaimee Lynn Fletcher

Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story originally published April 3. 

The 14-year-old clung to the fence of a freeway overpass, cars rushing 30 feet beneath her.

Haley Farnsworth readied herself for this — the moment she would jump.

She wasn’t scared.

Haley did have one fear, though: What would her mom say?

“I didn’t want her to think this was her fault,” Haley said, recently recalling the incident.

Then a strong hand gripped her left arm.

She couldn’t jump now, even if she tried.

Several more strong grips came, pulling the lanky teen to safety.

At the time, Haley didn’t want to be saved.

But now, the 15-year-old is grateful to the team of Costa Mesa Police officers who gave her no choice in the matter.

“That was a really low point in my life,” Haley said. “Without (those officers) I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Danielle Farnsworth, right, gives her 15-year-old daughter Haley Farnsworth a big hug as they arrive at the Costa Mesa PD to thank them for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Danielle Farnsworth, right, gives her 15-year-old daughter Haley Farnsworth a big hug as they arrive at the Costa Mesa PD to thank them for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Bridge rescue 

Haley had been a good student and a somewhat shy girl.

She loved soccer and running. She always completed her homework.

But in September 2013, the year she started at Newport Harbor High School, her behavior started to change, said her mom, Danielle Farnsworth.

Haley started missing school assignments and skipping class.

The teen said she started experimenting with drugs and alcohol for a simple reason: “I just wanted to fit in.”

Haley drank and smoked marijuana. She experimented with other drugs, but nothing that she did regularly, she said.

She smoked cigarettes and would stay out all night.

Her mother, who also is in recovery and works at a local rehabilitation facility, fought to get her daughter to return to the teen she knew before.

She put her in rehabilitation programs, and eventually enrolled her in a full-time outpatient facility where Haley could get an education while working on her behavior and addiction issues.

On May 6, 2014, Haley was kicked out of the program after supervisors learned she was dating a boy from the facility, which was against the rules.

That same day, their relationship ended.

Haley was 60 days sober at the time.

That evening, she went into her backyard where she hid a small bottle of Tequila and grabbed her prescription anti-depressants. She dumped the pills into an empty tube of ChapStick.

Haley drank the alcohol and took some of the pills.

She walked to the Wilson Street overpass, which stretches over the 55 freeway, and climbed on the outside ledge.

Haley held on to the seven-foot-tall fence to help balance her feet on the ledge.

“I was just walking back and forth, trying to build up to what I actually wanted to do,” she said.

Haley said she wanted to end her life that day.

“I didn’t think there was anything to be scared of,” she said. “I thought I was going to die. I just wanted to be done.”

A woman passed by and tried to intervene.

“She was telling me, ‘Nothing is this bad, we can work it out, you’re going to be fine,’” Haley said. “I was just ignoring her.”

Costa Mesa Police arrived at about 6:30 p.m. Officers shut the freeway down and tried to talk to the teen.

“We were trying to talk to her but were very unsuccessful,” said now-retired Sgt. Tim Starn. “She clearly was on some type of medication or drug.”

Officer Paul McCarthy, also now retired, stuck his arm through a six-inch gap that separated two sections of the fence to prevent Haley from walking further onto the overpass.

Starn said he remembers watching Haley and realizing her threat could quickly become a tragic accident.

“We could see that she’s getting ready to pass out,” Starn said. “It’s not a possible jump at this point — it’s a fall.”

Starn said Haley started to lose her footing, so he reached out and grabbed her arm.

“There was no way I was going to let her go,” he said.

The retired sergeant said he was ready to hold Haley until the fire department arrived because he didn’t think she would fit through the small separation in the fences.

Several officers reached through the fence to try and pull Haley to safety.

“Everyone just grabbed what they could,” he said. “I don’t know how she fit through that hole, but we got her up on the overpass.”

At about the same time, Danielle Farnsworth was headed to work when she saw the police activity on the Wilson Street overpass.

She saw a young girl wearing a gray sweatshirt like Haley’s, but the girl’s pants looked different.

It can’t be Haley, Danielle thought.

She jumped out of her car anyway and ran toward the police to get a closer look.

“I thought, ‘What am I doing? That’s not her. These cops are going to tackle me,’” Danielle said. “As I get halfway across the bridge, I see that’s my kid.

“I could have lost the most precious thing in my life.”

Haley was taken to a local hospital then was admitted to a psychiatric facility for treatment.

It was another several weeks before the teen committed to getting sober.

On June 22, 2014, Haley enrolled at a working rehabilitation ranch in Utah before returning to California and participating in a full-time rehabilitation facility.

Haley also signed on to speak at local middle and high schools to talk to youth about her experience and addiction.

“I have people come up to me after I speak and tell me that they can relate,” she said. “(Speaking) helps give back what’s been given to me.”

Interim Police Chief Ron Lowenberg of the Costa Mesa PD gets a hug from 15-year-old Haley Farnsworth who came to the police department to thank them for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Interim Police Chief Ron Lowenberg of the Costa Mesa PD gets a hug from 15-year-old Haley Farnsworth who came to the police department to thank them for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Giving thanks

Today, Haley is happy.

She loves to skateboard and play with her Border collie, Apollo.

She has newfound respect for her life.

“I like being the person I am today,” she said. “I am able to be congruent in every way.”

Haley said she knows she has the officers who saved her on the bridge that day to thank.

The teen on Thursday, for the first time, met the officer with the strong grip who held her on the bridge and helped pull her to safety.

“I just want to say thank you for saving me and giving me a chance to grow into the person that I am,” she told Starn.

She presented Starn with the bright-yellow chip she earned from Narcotics Anonymous for nine months of sobriety. Starn accepted the chip on behalf of all the Costa Mesa officers who rescued Haley that day.

Starn hugged her and said he was honored Haley reached out.

“In almost 31 years in law enforcement, I’ve never had anything like this happen,” he said. “You go on these calls and you never get any feedback about what happens after.

“To hear this is why we do what we do. It keeps us motivated and driven to continue on.”

The experience also has been a motivation for Haley, who now is rethinking her childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian.

“I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this,” she said. “I have decided I want to become a police officer.

“I want to be that one that makes a difference in somebody’s life.”

Haley Farnsworth, 15, center, holds her nine-month sobriety chip as she stands next to her mother Danielle Farnsworth, Sgt. Tom Starn, now retired, right of her, and Interim Police Chief Ron Lowenberg, far right, as Haley came to thank the Costa Mesa PD for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Haley Farnsworth, 15, center, holds her nine-month sobriety chip as she stands next to her mother Danielle Farnsworth, Sgt. Tom Starn, now retired, right of her, and Interim Police Chief Ron Lowenberg, far right, as Haley came to thank the Costa Mesa PD for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Haley Farnsworth, 15, thanks Interim Costa Mesa Police Chief Ron Lowenberg and Sgt. Tom Starn, now retired, right, for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Haley Farnsworth, 15, thanks Interim Costa Mesa Police Chief Ron Lowenberg and Sgt. Tom Starn, now retired, right, for saving her from jumping from a freeway overpass about year ago.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC