Skillful negotiators used a troubled man's happy memories of college cheerleading to avert tragedy on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, coaxing down a would-be suicide from the top of the eastbound span.
The incident, which snarled Wednesday afternoon traffic for three miles in each direction, was resolved by Detective Sgt. Diane Kulp of the Maryland State Police's Hostage Recovery Team. It was the sixth time this year the team has been called on to resolve a hostage, suicide or barricade situation.
"He was as high as you can go," Detective Kulp said yesterday. "He was teetering." The bridge at its highest point is 354 feet above the water.
Sgt. Kulp and Don DeLeaver, a former state police officer and hostage team member now with the Maryland Natural Resources Police, talked to the 22-year-old man from Alexandria, Va., for nearly two hours before the man climbed down without assistance. Sgt. Kulp was not on duty at the time, but happened to be nearby in Annapolis, as was Mr. DeLeaver, and both were called to the scene.
They could not hear the man, but he used hand signals to communicate with them.
The man, whose identity has not been released by authorities, had left his motorcycle and helmet on the bridge. Police officers at the scene searched the motorcycle, found his identification and a photo that showed he had been a cheerleader in college.
"I asked him whether he was a cheerleader, and he smiled," said Mr. DeLeaver. "That was something he was proud of."
With that opening, Mr. DeLeaver and Sgt. Kulp talked to the troubled young man through a bullhorn until he had agreed to come down and was standing on the span beside them. Both negotiators hugged the young man before he was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center for evaluation.
Once down, the man told both Sgt. Kulp and Mr. DeLeaver that he was glad he hadn't jumped.
"He was thankful," Mr. DeLeaver said yesterday.
"It just made me feel good -- when he came down, he said I'd talked him out of it," said Detective Kulp. She had a particularly timely plea for him at one point, she said -- she told him she had tickets to last night's Orioles game and she wanted him to come down so she could see Cal Ripken top Lou Gehrig's record. (She made the game, she said.)
Detective Kulp is one member of the state police's nine-person Hostage Recovery Team and has been on the team since its inception in 1980. The team is divided into three three-person units. All nine members are volunteers officers who work at other jobs in the agency full-time. Detective Kulp often works undercover.
The team's commander, Terry Katz, said he could not discuss specific situations for fear it might jeopardize future ones. But he said negotiators, such as Detective Kulp, are chosen from the ranks of officers and trained.
Wednesday's suicide attempt on the Bay Bridge was not the first time this year a despondent person has climbed the span, said Lori A. Vidil, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. In an effort to discourage others from trying it, she said, the authority does not release numbers of people who have climbed the span's cables. Four people have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge this year, she said; three in March and a fourth in July.
"No charges are pending," she said of Wednesday's incident. "If it was determined that this was a stunt, rather than someone who was troubled, then maybe -- it's being investigated."