URBANA — Jim Golaszewski wasn't sure what to think when he was sent to a call of a suicidal woman who said she was "with a bunch of dead people."
The veteran Champaign County sheriff's deputy knew it was one of two things.
"She was in a cemetery or she just did something horrible. Knowing the area, it was more likely it was a cemetery," said Golaszewski, 55, who was commended by Sheriff Dan Walsh on Thursday for saving the woman's life by using a Taser on her to keep her from further harming herself.
Also given a life-saving award in the same ceremony was Deputy Rich Ferriman, 35, who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a woman who had suffered a heart attack shortly after calling 911 from her Savoy home.
When Golaszewski arrived at the remote Bethel-Harris Cemetery just north of Seymour in western Champaign County on July 25, he saw a woman lying on the ground with several cuts on her legs, torso and arms. She was breathing, but her eyes were wide open and she wasn't blinking.
He could see a cellphone on the ground near her but not a knife. It was apparently in her right hand under her body. Having seen the many cuts and the large amount of blood, he was afraid she had also stabbed herself in a spot on her body that was not obvious to him.
"I didn't want to stand there while she bled," he said. His nearest fellow deputy was 4 miles away and paramedics were on the way.
Golaszewski said he got about 10 feet from the woman when "she sprang to her feet and came at me with the bloody knife."
Besides his concern for her safety, Golaszewski said, his fears about hepatitis and AIDS crossed his mind.
"You don't want to share knife blades," he said, explaining that the woman was holding the bloody paring knife in her right hand like a surgeon holds a scalpel.
"She had her arms to her side and was staring at me with a blank stare. I got my Taser out of my holster and I told her what it was and that I would use it," he said.
As she continued to stare at him, they could both hear the sound of the ambulance siren as it pulled down the lane of the cemetery, which is concealed from surrounding roads.
Having patrolled the area for years, having an idea of her location from a GPS function on her cellphone, and her reference to being with dead people, Golaszewski suspected she was in the isolated cemetery.
As she turned to run into an adjacent woods, she plunged the knife into her left wrist.
"I used the Taser. It was very effective. It dropped her and the knife," he said, calling the Taser a "life saver."
Without it, he said, his options would have been to tackle her and wrestle the knife away, use a night stick to strike her in the arm, or shoot her.
"I was very aware of the risks, but I was confident I was going to be able to deal with it," he said of the situation.
He described the woman as being of average build, in her 50s. She was involuntarily committed to a local hospital for treatment of mental issues.
"Having been a police officer before Tasers and pepper spray, I knew I had limited options in a situation like that. The Taser is not ideal, but it was the most effective," he said.
Golaszewski has been a road deputy for 32 years and a long-time field training officer. He also works as a liaison to the county's drug court program, checking on defendants in their homes.
Ferriman said his training also kicked in when he found a woman on the kitchen floor of her apartment on Misty Cove in Savoy on July 15.
The 73-year-old woman had apparently been having problems breathing, called 911, and collapsed on the kitchen floor before help arrived.
"We found the house phone in the sink," said Ferriman, who has been a deputy a little more than four years and was previously commended for helping get a woman out of a wrecked burning car in Savoy in August 2011.
An emergency medical technician for 10 years before becoming a deputy, Ferriman began CPR while the paramedics, who arrived before he did, gathered the equipment they needed to start an IV and intubate her.
While this was the first time he had to use his CPR skills as a deputy, it was certainly not the first time he has performed the life-saving technique.
"It takes more than two people to do this," he said, adding that the woman had no pulse and was not responding when he started the CPR.
By the time the paramedics had her ready to be moved, she had a pulse. Ferriman said he estimated he performed CPR between seven and 15 minutes.
Ferriman said he learned that the woman died several days later in the hospital.