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Daily Press, Newport News, (VA)

January 29, 1999

Author: KELLI CAPLAN Daily Press []

Liz Hartley never bought into the idea of guardian angels.  She changed her mind Wednes-day when she and a friend saved the life of a 55-year-old suicidal Fox Hill woman, someone they’d never met.

“This can make a believer out of you real quick,” she said. “I have absolutely no idea who the woman is. I didn’t know before and I don’t know now.”

It was a bizarre twist of fate – and a wrong phone number – that brought the two strangers together. Hartley, a stockbroker in Manhat-tan, was at her desk about 10 a.m. when the phone rang. She picked it up and heard a woman say “Liz,” in a “horribly bad voice.”

“I thought `who is this?’ I have a close friend who is having some big problems now. I thought it was her,” Hartley said.  It wasn’t.

As Hartley continued to talk to the woman, she got the impression the person on the phone was in terrible emotional shape. The woman talked about how no one loved her and said she’d called to say goodbye.  “I kept saying ‘we love you, we all love you,’ ” Hartley said. “I wanted her to think I was the Liz she meant to call so she wouldn’t hang up.”

The woman, whose speech was slurred, also mentioned that her son had been murdered four years ago and that she wanted someone named Brian to “hold her.” Her voice kept fading in and out. It seemed, Hartley said, like she was dozing off intermittently.

“After five minutes, I knew something was terribly wrong,” said Hartley, 48. “I knew it wasn’t a prank. It was too sick. She was really sounding bad. She sounded like she didn’t want to live.”

So Hartley enlisted her co-worker, Emlyn Philbert, to help deal with the disturbed caller. For more than 40 minutes, the women, who work at J. Streicher & Co., chatted with the woman, trying their best to keep her sinking spirits up.

The two were eventually able to coax the woman to give them her phone number. Leaving Philbert to go solo with the woman for a bit, Hartley ran to an office receptionist, who looked up the area code and found it to be in Newport News. Hartley called directory assistance and got the number for the Newport News police. A dispatcher there, though, told her that the number’s prefix was in Hampton.

She then called Hampton police. A dispatcher used a 911 tracer to find out the address that matched the number and sent officers Dana Patterson, Michael Anderson and Cpl. James Overton to the house.  About five minutes later, Hartley and Philbert, still talking to the woman, heard police knock on the door.  “For 10 minutes we tried to get her to the door,” Hartley said. “We told her Brian was there and wanted to see her.”  The woman didn’t budge.

A neighbor noticed the activity at the house and was able to provide the officers with a key.

Once inside, they saw the woman — whom police are not identifying – standing at the top of the stairs. When they tried to approach her, she walked back to her bedroom, grabbed the phone and continued her conversation with Hartley and Philbert, according to Sgt. Jeff Walden, police spokesman. She had taken a mixture of prescription pills – including Prozac – then washed them down with alcohol, he said.

The woman was in and out of consciousness. Her condition, Walden said, was life threatening. She was taken to Sentara Hampton General Hospital, and later transferred to a local psychiatric unit.   “If they had not stayed on the phone with her, there is a good chance she would have died,” he said. “She was very fortunate the person she got was named Liz and that the two didn’t hang up on her and took the time to find out what was going on.   “It was a fluke, possibly divine intervention,” Walden said.

That’s what Hartley is beginning to think. After the call, the two women went back to work, thinking the call was strange but not pondering it too much. But Thursday, after hearing the woman was so near death when their paths crossed, Hartley began to cry during a telephone interview.

“I didn’t realize how close she was,” she said. “We were in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t her time to go.”

The life-saving efforts of the women drew the attention of national media. Hartley was interviewed by People magazine, The New York Times and the Daily News on Thursday.   The two stockbrokers are quick to say that they alone didn’t save the woman.

Philbert had a close friend who died Tuesday. That woman’s angel pulled the Hampton woman back from the edge, the two say.   “She went before her time, and I think she wanted to do some good,” Hartley said. “I think she had a hand in this.”

Hartley cannot stop wondering why the call came to her. It came at a time when the office is usually hopping. On Wednesday, it wasn’t. And she knows no one in Virginia. There must be, she said, some reason for her involvement, although she’ll probably never know for sure what it is.

“Now it’s starting to sink in that it was somebody’s life,” she said. “Thank God she’s all right. If you believe in any of it,” she said about guardian angels, “there is no way she should be alive.”   The duo hopes to send the woman a note in the next couple of weeks to let her know that they are thinking about her and “that if she wants to contact us she can but there’s no pressure.”

If Hartley were to have another conversation with the woman, she said she knows exactly what she would say: “Make the best of it.”   “You have second shot,” she said. “Not everyone gets a second shot. Make the best of it.”

Kelli Caplan can be reached at 247-4738 or by e-mail at