KEARNEY, Neb. — The Gottschalk observation tower at Yanney Park is an icon in Kearney. The structure stands 80 feet tall and serves as the centerpiece of the city’s flagship park. But one of the community’s landmarks nearly became the scene of a nightmare on a summer night in July, if not for the actions of one Kearney police officer.

“I just knew that there was someone in distress," Officer Joshua Stokey said. "It was a little bit dynamic. We had minimal information. Information was coming as we were going to the scene.”

That’s all Officer Joshua Stokey knew as he arrived at Yanney Park in the early morning hours of July 29. After scaling the stairs of the observation tower, he found a woman laying down on the landing. She was immediately resistant to having police near her.

“At that point, my goal is to get things to baseline," Stokey said. I just want to communicate, I just want to talk, I want to see what I can do to help the situation.”

The Kearney Police Department provided NCN with edited body camera footage of the incident. The woman is blurred and audio is redacted to protect her identity.

Stokey says the woman had visible injuries and was in extreme emotional distress.

“The tool I found the best is, be a human being," Stokey said. "If someone’s going through something, you’ve got to just level with them. It’s something that I would want if I were to be in crisis, I would want somebody to level with me.”

After about three and a half minutes, a different woman charged up the stairs behind Stokey. We can’t show the subsequent video to protect both women’s identities. We’re unsure of their relationship, but as soon as the second woman made it to the landing, the first woman reacted by putting her own life at risk. Police Chief Bryan Waugh explains.

“The person climbed over the railing, in an attempt — obvious attempt — to possibly fall from the top of the tower,” Waugh said. 

“I immediately just grab her around the torso. At that point, I felt her weight drop," Stokey said. "So, all I really could do was just throw her weight back onto me and roll her back onto the landing, just to ensure that she was completely safe.”

Stokey and other officers called for medical assistance. They got the woman off the top of the tower and to a hospital.

“So I think his efforts definitely resulted in the saving of a life, or at minimum, saving significant injury,” Waugh said.

After reviewing the incident, Stokey’s supervisors recommended him for the department’s life saving award.

They presented it at a city council meeting in front of dozens of officers, family and the city’s leaders, who described his efforts as heroic.

“It’s not every day that an officer hears those words. It means a lot coming from the public, from my supervisors, but I know that it’s something that any one of my teammates, any one of my fellow officers would do the same thing,” Stokey said.

Stokey served as an officer in Lincoln for three years before coming to Kearney a year ago. He says he had never encountered a situation like the one at the top of the tower, but he knew to fall back on his training and act. It’s those actions that guaranteed a person in need survived a crisis.