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An officer with the University of Alabama Police Department has been hailed as a hero for rescuing a woman from the Black Warrior River.
Officer Albert Canzoneri, who has been with the department for nearly eight years, earned the Chief of Police’s Medal of Honor for saving the woman, who could not swim.
“I didn’t expect a medal or even the Medal of Honor. I was just surprised and shocked. But very, very thankful,” said Canzoneri, a Birmingham native and a graduate of the University of Alabama.
Canzoneri was working his usual shift on May 10 when he responded to a police radio call radio about a woman who was attempting to jump into the Black Warrior River at the Park at Manderson Landing. The Tuscaloosa park off Jack Warner Parkway features eight acres of waterfront walking trails along the river.
Canzoneri was the first officer to arrive on the scene, where he found a woman who was standing on a concrete ledge over the river. As more officers arrived, Canzoneri said he used methods learned in his police training to persuade the woman to climb off the ledge and sit on a nearby bench to talk for a few minutes.
“Some people just need a friend and someone to listen to them," said Canzoneri. "Most people feel better after venting their problems even when it's to a stranger. She was talking about how she was just kind of tired of everything.”
Canzoneri said the woman agreed to be checked by paramedics, but when the ambulances arrived, the tension escalated.
“So when they got there, I think it became apparent to her that she was more than likely going to go to the hospital, Canzoneri said. "And she got up from the bench and took off over the rail."
The woman jumped into the river and soon began to panic since she didn’t know how to swim. Canzoneri immediately removed his utility vest, belt and boots, and jumped into the river and pulled the woman to safety.
The officer said he didn’t think twice about jumping into the river and called his actions instinctive.
On May 16, one week after the rescue, Chief John Hooks presented Canzoneri with the Chief of Police’s Medal of Honor, along with a plaque, during a surprise ceremony with the officer’s supervisors, family, friends and peers in attendance. Canzoneri said he appreciates the honor, but doesn’t consider himself a hero because he was just doing his job.
“Do I feel I arrived just in time? It’s hard to tell," Canzoneri said. "In some cases, police presence can immediately agitate people .. (while) others feel more comfortable. However, when I arrived on scene, I believe she was still battling mentally with her next choice.”
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