Monday traffic drama

Police offer pizza to a man walking on the outside ledge of the Ravenel Bridge on Monday.

Grace Beahm

A suicidal man and a three-car wreck conspired to create a traffic nightmare for Mount Pleasant commuters Monday morning, strangling two of the main routes out of town.

Both situations were resolved by noon, but not before thousands of motorists endured lengthy delays getting to their destinations.

Problems began around 6:50 a.m. when a man parked his vehicle along the southbound shoulder of the Ravenel Bridge and stepped across a barrier. He paced back and forth and threatened to jump into the Cooper River, Mount Pleasant police said.

Nearly a dozen motorists called 911 to alert authorities. The vehicle’s emergency lights were on, so some of the travelers first thought it was disabled. They worried that the vehicle would cause a wreck.

Several callers reported that a man wearing a green T-shirt had climbed over the concrete barrier and was dialing, then talking on his cellphone.

“(He’s) holding onto the cable looking like (he’s) getting ready to jump,” one caller said. “There’s no other reason for him to be there.”

A dispatcher told another caller that help was on the way.

“Thank God for that,” the woman said.

Traffic backed up for more than a mile as crews shut down the two right southbound lanes while they tried to talk to the man. The situation also interrupted the search for a possible body floating off Sullivan’s Island that was reported Sunday, Charleston County sheriff’s Maj. Jim Brady said.

Some motorists trying to avoid the snarl on the Ravenel Bridge attempted to take the long way into Charleston via Interstate 526. They soon found themselves in a thick clot of traffic there as well.

That’s because three vehicles collided near the Clements Ferry Road exit around 9 a.m., shutting down one lane for more than an hour.

The pileup resulted in minor injuries, but crews weren’t able to clear the wreckage until 10:44 a.m., Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said.

Problems continued on the Ravenel for even longer, and at 11:45 a.m. police shut down the span entirely.

The despondent man had grown hungry and thirsty during his hours atop the bridge, and police brought him a pepperoni pizza from Andolini’s and some water.

After several tense moments during the next 15 minutes, the man was captured and later taken to Medical University Hospital for treatment, Mount Pleasant Police Maj. Stan Gragg said.

“It just so happened he was taken into custody shortly after being provided pizza,” Gragg said, and that it was speculation to say the pepperoni pie helped coax him down.”

Customers at Andolini’s in Mount Pleasant came to a different conclusion.

“Dude, your pizza is saving lives this morning,” one man said as he arrived for lunch at the Coleman Boulevard restaurant.

The restaurant hadn’t even opened when police called in their order around 10:15 a.m. Still, general manager A.J. Castle had it cooked, boxed and ready in no time.

After learning what it was for, Castle gave the pie to an officer at no charge.

“I figured he was doing a good deed, I might as well do him a good deed as well,” he said.

Castle didn’t think much more of it until a customer came in and showed him a photo on of the officer offering Castle’s creation to the despondent man. Soon, he seemed to be the center of attention as word of the incident spread.

“He doesn’t just throw pies, he saves lives,” co-worker Greg Hunt said.

Dusted with flour and tossing more pies Monday afternoon, Castle wasn’t quite ready to call himself a hero.

“I’ve been here for nine years and nothing like this has ever happened,” he said with a grin. “But I’m not going to take credit for what happened. I was just doing my job.”

Andrew Knapp also contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story contained an error. Mount Pleasant police did give the man’s name and age; however, The Post and Courier did not identify him.