ASTORIA — A major five-hour traffic snarl ended without harm Saturday evening after a man gained access to one of the Astoria-Megler Bridge’s lofty southern towers.
Police were called to the bridge at about 4:15 p.m. and soon closed it to traffic. Northbound travelers parked and waited in Astoria, while southbound traffic was diverted by a highway department truck that blocked the Washington end. Several motorists reported detouring through Longview as the closure dragged on, not concluding until about 9:30 p.m.
Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding said the man climbed stairs to the bridge’s top observation deck. He said Astoria police officers and a staffer for Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare spoke with him. Authorities also called upon one of the man’s relatives in a successful effort at talking him down.
The police chief said the man could face a charge of criminal trespass in the second degree.
Mayor Bruce Jones thanked Sgt. Chris McNeary, Officer Thomas Litwin and personnel from Clatsop Behavioral Health for helping get the man off the bridge safely.
“With the calm professionalism of a seasoned officer who previously worked a suicide hotline, Sgt. McNeary patiently listened to and spoke with the man for over four hours until he was ready to come peacefully down,” Jones said in a Facebook post. “Climbing the stairs to the top of the bridge is challenge enough, without the added stress of an uncertain situation in a very dangerous position.”
The bridge’s elevation is a source of anxiety to some. The lowest steel member of the center span is nearly 200 feet above mean low water as it stretches between the two steel towers, according to the bridge’s 1966 dedication program. The towers soar more than another 100 feet above the bridge deck.
U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment, the Clatsop County Marine Unit and the Port of Astoria/Astoria Fire Department boat Trident stood by in case aid was needed below in the water.
Known suicides from the bridge are relatively uncommon. A search of news stories found five in the past decade, counting one in May 2019. Three were men and two were women.