Southbound lanes on Alex Fraser Bridge were closed for nearly eight hours Monday (Jan. 23) due to a man in mental-health crisis, and while the situation was resolved safely, police say the actions of several drivers made negotiating with the man more difficult.
In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the DPD said police received a report shortly after noon of an individual who was outside the safety railing on the southbound side of the bridge.
Officers arrived on scene and began actively negotiated with the distressed man from a safe distance, a strategy designed to de-escalate and reduce the anxiety of an individual already in a heightened emotional state.
Police negotiated with the man for nearly eight hours as he stood on a small platform outside the railing.
Shortly before 8 p.m., the man agreed to climb back over the railing to safety, surrendered to the officers working to help him and was provided with the medical attention he needed.
The DPD team worked with various partners to safely manage and resolve the situation, including RCMP officers, a high-angle rescue team from the Delta Fire Department, the Integrated Emergency Response Team, Mainroad highway contractors, BC Ambulance, and the Canadian Coast Guard.
“I am proud of the work and commitment of all first responders, which led to the team saving the distressed individual’s life in a mental health crisis,” DPD Chief Neil Dubord said in a press release.
“We also recognize that the bridge closure caused frustrations, and our team will review this incident with our partners to determine how we can lessen the future impact on the public.”
Police say southbound lanes on the bridge were closed for an extended period for the safety of both the distressed man and first responders.
“A variety of reasons are considered for closing lanes on the bridge. The bridge deck is a loud environment — the sound of engines, tires and road noise is complicated by heavy gusts of heavy wind and the sway of the bridge, elevating the danger to those involved,” according to a DPD press release.
“While the overall decision to close the bridge is complex, it is guided by the DPD’s priority to preserve life.”
Police say various distractions impacted their priority to preserve life on Monday, including drivers “rubber-necking” to get a view, honking their horns, yelling at the individual in crisis, and even encouraging the man to take action.
Some impacted drivers went so far as to walk up the bridge deck, make contact with officers, interfere with the negotiations, and record or photograph the individual in crisis.
During the closure, several commuters were gridlocked on the bridge, leading to frustration and causing drivers to take chances and drive aggressively, resulting in secondary collisions.
Just before 6 p.m., one frustrated motorist went around several highway vehicles managing the road closure then struck another highway vehicle and a concrete barrier, causing several thousand dollars damage to the vehicles involved. Some DPD officers were forced to disengage from the crisis to deal with this incident.
Then, shortly after 7 p.m., another driver ignored a flagger’s direction and drove around the barricades, which police say placed the flagging staff, highway workers, the man in crisis and first responders in danger. Upon further investigation, that driver was found to be impaired and issued a 90-day driving suspension, and his vehicle was impounded for 30 days.
“As first responders, the DPD sees the impacts of mental health daily. It can grind lives to a halt, as we saw yesterday, but to stop the stigma surrounding mental health, everyone must do their part,” the department said in a release.
“While Bell Let’s Talk Day [on Wednesday] will bring further awareness to the stigma, mental health should be a 365-day priority.
“If you or someone you love is suffering, please ask for help or offer it.”
The following resources are available for anyone in crisis, with experts available 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
• Fraser Health Crisis Line: 604-951-8855 or 1-877-820-7444
• Crisis Services Canada (talksuicide.ca) 1-833-456-4566
• Crisis Centre BC (crisiscentre.bc.ca) 1-800-784-2433
• Kids Help Phone (kidshelpphone.ca) 1-800-668-6868
• 310Mental Health Support (no area code required) 310-6789
• Canadian Mental Health Association (cmha.ca)
— with files from Tom Zillich