116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - If Ben Koch hadn't seen 'bright pink” out of the corner of his eye. he might not have saved a life.
Koch, 22, a University of Iowa student, was driving his UI CAMBUS route along Grand Avenue on Aug. 28, 2020, when he'd stopped at Riverside Drive to turn left.
He saw the flash of pink and looked over to see a woman, wearing a pink shirt, sitting on top of the Burlington Street Bridge's outer railing that overlooks the Iowa River dam.
He knew something was wrong and sat at the intersection as the left-turn arrow came and went.
The woman then went over the railing to stand on the edge of the bridge, looking into the river's swift current.
'I thought at first, ‘Are my eyes deceiving me?' ” Koch told The Gazette last week. 'I thought she is going to jump. I got on our communications radio to let them know what was going on and to call 911.”
Koch, who grew up in Dubuque, recalled looking around to see if an Iowa City police officer might be driving by. A car had stopped near the woman, and the female driver rolled down her car's window and seemed to be talking to the woman on the bridge.
'I just put the bus in park and jumped out, booking it fast as I could across the intersection and dodging some cars that had the green light to get to the bridge,” Koch said, as he relived the moment. 'It was probably like 500 feet away.
'I just grabbed her under her arms from behind and wrapped my arms around her to hold her. And then another man came up and helped me pull the woman over the railing away from the edge.”
Koch, who is 6-foot-6, said he knew he could hold the woman until police arrived, but he didn't know if he could get her over the railing by himself, so he was grateful for the other man's help.
'She really didn't say anything to me,” Koch said. 'She was yelling, and I heard her say she wanted to die. She was crying and seemed frustrated. She wasn't making much sense.”
Koch said it was instinct that made him stop and help. He said he's had experience with mental health issues in his family and among his friends, which makes him aware of potential problems.
He said he 'sensed” the woman 'was in trouble.”
'We all go through stuff,” he said. 'I have. After experiencing this ... and my dad had died two years ago and my grandfather died before Christmas, I needed some counseling.”
Koch said he continued to hold the woman until police officers arrived, about seven of them. They thanked him and the other man for their help and credited Koch with saving the woman's life.
Koch then went back to his busload of freshmen, who he thought might be upset with him for making some of them late to class. Instead, they were standing and clapping when he opened the CAMBUS doors.
'Nobody was griping,” he said. 'They were saying, ‘You saved her life. You're a hero.' It was pretty great. I apologized for making them late and told them if they ever need help, to reach out to someone.”
The American Red Cross Grant Wood Chapter named Koch one of its Everyday Heroes of Eastern Iowa earlier this month.
The 18th annual presentation was a virtual event March 11, which recognizes local citizens who display courage, compassion and unselfish character.
Other honorees were Tina Mead and her Second Helping meal service in Manchester, and Bill Gansenand Joe Mayne, city of Dubuque employees who used CPR and an automated external defibrillator to save a man who had a heart attack at the city's landfill; and Red Cross biomedical staffers who continued to safely collect blood during a pandemic.
‘Above and beyond'
Koch said he felt uneasy being called a hero but was honored by the award.
'I felt like the others (awarded) deserved it more for what they did, but it's pretty cool,” Koch said.
Brian McClatchey, CAMBUS manager and Koch's supervisor, said he wasn't surprised Koch tried to help that day.
'He is a good employee and always goes above and beyond,” McClatchey said. 'I've always thought highly of him. I was impressed that he saw the woman that day. I'm real proud of him.”
McClatchey said Koch has been driving for CAMBUS since November 2017 and has consistently been complimented by his passengers, he said.
Koch also received a director's award and a small scholarship from the university's Parking and Transportation department for his life-saving action.
'I just always try to be aware of what's going on and watch out for the passengers. … It's part of the job,” Koch said. 'I just hope everyone remembers you don't have to be a hero to reach out to someone and talk. It may help.”
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