A suicidal man clung to an overpass high above Interstate 94 Monday morning, facing near-certain death if he jumped or fell.
But a quick-thinking state trooper found an ingenious way to save him: He summoned a convoy of 18-wheelers that had been stuck in halted traffic beneath the Groveland Avenue bridge as the emergency unfolded at about 10 a.m.
Trooper Carl Hoffman rounded up a six-pack of the big rigs, positioning the trucks one by one to break a potential plunge to the pavement about 25 feet below.
"It really speaks to the trooper's ingenuity," Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said. "'Hey, we can shorten his fall and he'd be less likely to harm himself.'"
Hoffman said he had talked in training about getting "some semis under a bridge and lessen the blow" under such circumstances, but said that he had never known of it being tried. "It was well worth the unknown," he said Monday afternoon.
Even after his initial brainstorm, however, Hoffman was forced to improvise as the man continued to seek for a clear path to the highway.
"We walked back to a couple of trucks and asked if they would be willing to help us," Hoffman said. Two trucks rolled up under the overpass, but the man countered and "began to shuffle over where the semis weren't."
At one point, Hoffman said, the man "would hold onto the fence and lean back as if he's ready to fall."
Trying to keep up, Hoffman and fellow trooper Ben Berkowitz "got another semi, then he would shuffle over; then we got another one, and he would shuffle over."
Eventually, all six trucks were pulled into position where they cut the man's potential fall by half or more.
"While we're doing this, Minneapolis [fire personnel] cut two holes in the chain-link fence," Hoffman said. "He got close enough to a hole they cut that they were able to grab him."
At times during the rescue, police and fire personnel were grabbing onto one another to keep from falling. Police also reported that one of the officers, in a T-shirt, was cut as he attempted from the top of the fence to grab onto the man.
Even after being grabbed and pulled onto the bridge, the man struggled with officers, police said. He was quickly restrained and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.
"The City of Minneapolis is extremely proud of these police and fire personnel who risked their lives to save a despondent man," the Police Department said in a statement Monday afternoon.
The drama over, "we told the truckers to take off," trooper Hoffman said, leaving the identities of the good Samaritans a mystery to authorities. "We had traffic backed up, and we got them out of there as quickly as we could."
Hoffman was impressed that all the truckers who were approached "were more than willing" to help. "It was amazing. One semi driver said he's actually done this before in Florida."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482