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Man talked out of jumping from Skyway bridge

By JAMIE THOMPSON
Published June 12, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - On top of the Sunshine Skyway bridge, a man parked his car, ran across two lanes of traffic and began climbing over the edge.

The 24-year-old straddled a narrow concrete beam, one leg falling toward the dark green water 197 feet below.

Nearby, a state trooper stood beside an unmarked patrol car, shouting into the wind.

"Don't!" Lt. A.J. Pugh said.

Pugh had been looking for the man, Adriel Gonzalez, 24, of Pinellas Park.

Around 2 p.m. on Friday, Gonzalez's brother called the Florida Highway Patrol, which patrols the bridge around the clock to prevent suicides.

Gonzalez apparently had missed a court date and was worried about going to jail, authorities said. Depressed, he drove to the Skyway.

Gonzalez, wearing a white tank top and blue jeans, was teary eyed as he straddled the bridge. He looked forward, then down.

"Look at me," Pugh yelled gently. "Just keep looking at me."

"Tell my brother I love him," the man replied.

More state troopers arrived and closed the southbound lanes, snarling traffic for miles.

U.S. Coast Guard boats circled below, prepared to pluck Gonzalez from Tampa Bay.

Gonzalez's brother arrived, knelt down and pleaded with Gonzalez, who continued straddling the bridge.

About 2:50 p.m., Cpl. Frank Greco, a negotiator with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, approached Gonzalez.

"Tell me what's going on," Greco said. "I'm here to help."

They talked about Gonzalez's legal problems, his brother, his life.

After 15 minutes, Greco asked, "Are you ready for me to help you now?"

Gonzalez paused, then nodded.

"Okay, come down," Greco asked.

Gonzalez climbed off the bridge about 3:15 p.m. Greco shook his hand, holding tight in case he had second thoughts.

He was taken to a local hospital for a mental examination, authorities said.

It was unclear Friday what Gonzalez's court hearing was about. He was convicted in 2000 for a sex offense against a child, according to state records.

Since the FHP began its 24-hour bridge patrol in 2000, troopers have talked more than 40 people off the bridge.

[Last modified June 11, 2004, 23:45:27]


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