Delta Police closed the Alex Fraser Bridge on Monday for more than eight hours due to a mental health crisis.
Police rarely share information regarding mental health incidents of this nature, but have chosen to provide details given the amount of public scrutiny surrounding the incident.
DPD said in a Tuesday news release that on Monday (Jan. 23) shortly after noon, the department received a report of a male who was outside the safety rail on the southbound side of the Alex Fraser Bridge.
Officers arrived on scene and began negotiating with the male from a safe distance, a strategy designed to de-escalate and reduce the anxiety of an individual already in a heightened emotional state.
“Unfortunately, southbound lanes on the bridge were closed for the safety of the distressed male and first responders for an extended period,” said Acting Insp. James Sandberg. “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. While the overall decision to close the bridge is complex, it is guided by the DPD's priority to preserve life.”
Sandberg said various distractions impacted the DPD's priority to preserve life, including drivers “rubber-necking” to get a view, honking horns, yelling at the individual in crisis and even encouraging them to take action. Some impacted drivers walked up the bridge deck, made contact with officers, interfered with the negotiations, and even videoed or photographed the individual in crisis.
“During this closure, several commuters were gridlocked on the bridge leading to frustration and causing drivers to take chances and drive aggressively,” Sandberg added. “Additional impacts included secondary collisions.”
He said just before 6 p.m., a frustrated motorist went around several highway vehicles managing the road closure, striking a highway vehicle and a concrete barrier, causing several thousand dollars of damage to all vehicles involved. DPD officers were distracted from the crisis to deal with this incident.
Then shortly after 7 p.m. another driver ignored a flagger's direction and drove around barricades, placing the flagging staff, highway workers, the individual in crisis and first responders in danger. Upon further investigation, this driver was found to be impaired and issued a 90-day driving suspension along with a 30-day vehicle impound.
Shortly before 8 p.m. after standing on a small platform outside the bridge railing and hanging for nearly eight hours, negotiations with the impacted male concluded with him agreeing to climb to safety and surrendering to the officers working to help him.
The DPD team worked with various partners to safely manage and resolve this 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,” said Chief Neil Dubord. “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.”
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. Tomorrow is Bell Let's Talk Day and will bring further awareness about mental health; however, mental health should be a 365-day priority.
If you or someone you love is suffering, please ask for help or offer it.
Below is a list of resources with experts available 24/7, 365 for anyone in crisis.
Crisis Services Canada (www.talksuicide.ca) 1-833-456-4566
Crisis Centre BC (www.crisiscentre.bc.ca) 1-800-784-2433
Kids Help Phone (www.kidshelpphone.ca) 1-800-668-6868
310Mental Health Support (no area code required) 310-6789
Canadian Mental Health Association (www.cmha.ca)