In a vehicle bearing hand-painted messages saying: "Stay Away," "Back Off," "Happy Now" and "Game Over," a man threatening to harm himself held off authorities for two hours Thursday atop the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
He surrendered to police hostage negotiators about 5:10 p.m. and was taken to Medical University Hospital, Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said.
Police on Friday released an incident report identifying the man as Phillip DeClemente, 38, of River Otter Court in Mount Pleasant. He was cited for reckless driving. A charge of damage to public property is pending.
DeClemente is a former member of the Charleston County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad. According to a search of county court records, DeClemente was arrested on a stalking charge in January 2011. Details about the arrest were not available late Thursday.
In August, the stalking charge was dropped and he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree harassment.
He was sentenced to time served, court records show.
Francis said late Thursday that no weapons or explosives were found in DeClemente's white Lexus sport utility vehicle. The SUV was painstakingly searched by an explosives ordnance team, which used robots to probe inside the vehicle atop the bridge after DeClemente surrendered.
While DeClemente was still in his vehicle atop the bridge, FBI agents went to his home and found an opened door and a smoke grenade inside the residence, authorities disclosed Friday.
Another smoke grenade, which "looked real from a distance," was found in DeClemente's white SUV when the police bomb squad used a robot to search the vehicle after DeClemente was in custody, Charleston police said.
Police maintain DeClemente parked sideways atop the bridge about 3 p.m. Thursday, blocking northbound traffic, and threatened to kill himself by driving off the bridge.
He is alleged to have rammed the separating wall between vehicular traffic lanes and the bike and pedestrian path.
Police said hand written messages on the windows of DeClemente's SUV read: "Stay Away," "Back Off," "Game Over," and more.
Charleston police, the department's Bomb Squad, SWAT team, the county sheriff's office and EMS, and the FBI all came to the scene. Mount Pleasant police maintained security at the north side of the bridge. Traffic backed up for many miles into Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant while the bridge was closed, and for hours afterward.
At about 5:10 p.m., DeClemente complied with hostage negotiators' pleas and came out of the SUV and surrendered. He was taken to Medical University Hospital, police said.
In addition to the smoke grenade in the back seat, a small pepper spray container was found on the driver's side floor, and a large pepper spray can in the rear of the vehicle, police said.
No one was injured during the standoff. It was the second day in a row that an afternoon rush-hour incident played havoc with area traffic.
The Ravenel Bridge did not fully open until almost 7 p.m., four hours after the incident began.
On Wednesday, traffic was backed up on interstates and many local roads and highways until late at night because of a truck accident on Interstate 526 near Leeds Avenue.
The Thursday incident began just as afternoon traffic was building. Live video from S.C. Department of Transportation cameras on the bridge carried the drama to local and national television audiences. Photos taken on the bridge by motorists present when the oddly inscribed vehicle parked at the peak were distributed by the Internet and posted on web pages.
Francis said the incident began when DeClemente's family called authorities to report that he was on the bridge and threatening to harm himself. Information given to police by the family allowed trained police negotiators to contact DeClemente on his cellphone.
Though the SUV rammed the bridge a few times, DeClemente never endangered the bridge, and only threatened to harm himself, Francis said.
"He came out of his vehicle and is now in custody. We are just thankful it ended peacefully," Francis said as the incident came to a close.
Francis said that in spite of the threatening tone of the messages on the SUV's windows, authorities did not treat the situation as a bomb threat.
"This guy was threatening to harm himself and we didn't know what he had with him inside the vehicle," Francis said.
Porter Massey of James Island, a College of Charleston soccer player, was headed into Mount Pleasant on the bridge when his car apparently became the last one to get across in the northbound lanes before they closed. As Massey approached the bridge's peak, he sighted an SUV turned sideways ahead of him.
"I thought it was a wrecked car, turned around," he remembered. "Obviously it had just happened."
Massey said he continued driving toward the oddly positioned car, while other vehicles beside and behind him stopped. It was very important that he get to Mount Pleasant for treatment for a leg injury, he explained.
"I could see writing on the (SUV) windows," he said. "I could read it from 30 yards away."
Massey said he approached the SUV and was able to drive by it, narrowly, in the right lane. That apparently angered the man behind the wheel of the SUV, he said.
"He was raging on the horn, and it was loud," Massey said, adding the SUV moved forward in an effort to stop him. "I had a feeling he was going to hurt himself. I felt like it was a bomb. It was serious, he was going to do some damage to someone and himself," Massey added.
Massey said he immediately called 911 and may have been first to do so.
Sparky Witte of Mount Pleasant was driving toward Charleston when he sighted the SUV in the opposing traffic lanes. A semi-retired photographer, Witte managed to snap a few photos of the SUV as traffic slowed and then stopped. "As soon as I got on the bridge it was already congested, but then it was wall to wall, bumper to bumper," he said.
Police arrived quickly and were getting everyone off the bridge, Witte said. "It was just like it was a wreck, it was pretty ordinary," he said.
But Witte said he became very concerned later when word spread that the bridge might be under a bomb threat. "I just don't want to see the bridge blown up. That would be a ... nightmare," he said.
David MacDougall contributed to this story. Reach Edward C. Fennell at 937-5560.
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