Monday, Jan 23, 2012
Fayette County deputies were called to investigate a vehicle abandoned on the 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge around 4:30 a.m. last Thursday morning. They quickly realized that there was a suicidal man sitting on the Jersey barrier at the edge of the bridge. Two deputies and a lieutenant from that department, the latter trained by the FBI as a crisis negotiator, began talking with him while rangers, FBI agents and West Virginia state troopers responded. Just before 6 a.m., all traffic across the bridge, a major travel artery, was shut down. Rangers also closed off the area below the bridge and cleared people out. Investigation revealed that the man, who had recently separated from the military for medical reasons, suffers from psychological disorders and takes prescription drugs to control his anxiety and panic attacks. The man’s father was contacted; he confirmed that his son had been discharged from the military for medical reasons and that he’d been particularly distraught over the apparent suicide of his former girlfriend the previous week. He had left a note to his father in his vehicle, expressing his desire to commit suicide. Throughout the ordeal, the man went from calm and reasoned to extremely agitated and threatening. At times he would step up to and start over the rail on the bridge, while at other times he would step back and strike an upright “runner’s stance” as if preparing to run and launch himself from the bridge. The heavy clothing he was wearing and his position precluded the use of a taser. After four hours of negotiations with intermittent success, the man asked a negotiator if he could have some water and take his meds. About 45 minutes later, he appeared to be more relaxed and was no longer having any outbursts. At this time, he’d moved to the center barrier of the bridge and was leaning against it. Around 10:30 a.m., he asked for a cigarette and was allowed to smoke. When he finished it, he leaned against the barrier and appeared to be nodding off. Officers from several agencies tackled him and got him under control. He was transferred to a medical facility for evaluation. This incident was preceded and followed by two other reports of pedestrians on the bridge (pedestrian traffic is illegal anywhere on the bridge surface). The first turned out to be a photographer; in the second incident, on Friday, rangers found a young man sitting on the edge with his feet dangling over the river. They asked him to come down and he immediately complied. After an evaluation, he was released to his mother.