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Same story, different day for Ravenel Bridge

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So Groundhog Day came early in Charleston this year.

And not just the holiday, but the Bill Murray movie.

On Friday night, 911 dispatch got a call from a very upset man with a lot of cop cars following him.

He said he was driving down Interstate 26, headed toward the Ravenel Bridge.

And when the dispatcher asked what he was driving, the guy said he was in "a silver minivan with writing all over it."

Cue the Sonny and Cher, and please re-route all traffic to 526. Mount Pleasant Phil had seen his shadow - and he thought it was stalking him.

Just before rush hour on Feb. 2, 2012 - Groundhog Day - Phillip DeClemente brought the Lowcountry to a standstill for four hours when he drove up on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and blocked traffic with an SUV that had writing all over it. You know, inspirational phrases like "game over."

It was a mess.

This time, DeClemente didn't quite make Feb. 2, but the outcome was the same. And it could not have come at a worse possible time. The bridge had been shut down more than two days because of ice, including six hours that day.

People, this is getting ridiculous.

Whoever built the website is probably going to get rich.

Most folks know that, these days, it's better to check first, commute later.

For more than 20 minutes Friday night, DeClemente kept a 911 dispatcher on the line, clearly worried about his safety.

He said he would stop only when he felt safe because, he claimed, the police had been harassing him, had assaulted him and left him nearly incapacitated.

He meant physically.

DeClemente said the police were always after him - and he wanted to draw attention to it.

Well, Brainiac, perhaps if you quit showing up outside the house of a person you have issues with, and stop clogging up the bridge, the police would leave you alone.

Cause and effect - look into it.

Speaking of which, here is a friendly suggestion: If you are trying to garner sympathy for your plight, inconveniencing thousands of people probably is not the way to go about it.

But it's a great way to make a whole lot more enemies.

It's too bad bridges can't file restraining orders.

DeClemente was put in an MUSC psychiatric unit after his 2012 bridge stunt.

They let him out after a month, he said, with a clean bill of health.

But on Friday, DeClemente told a 911 dispatcher that he needed help.

A lot of people in this state need help but aren't getting it. In the past five years, the Department of Mental Health budget has been cut nearly 40 percent by lawmakers looking for easy ways to avoid tax increases.

DeClemente needs to find a better place to work out his problems than in the northbound lane of a very important piece of Lowcountry infrastructure. But there are far fewer beds for mental health patients than there were a decade ago. Now the state is hoping that churches and 1-800 numbers take up the slack.

Think about the $14.50 the Legislature saved you by cutting the Department of Mental Health to the bone the next time you have to drive to Columbia to get to Mount Pleasant.

Of course, an even more immediate problem for Charleston is this: There are no criminal charges for disrupting the lives of every single person in the Lowcountry. Two years ago, DeClemente got a reckless driving ticket, and that was it.

Law enforcement officials say the only way to really keep this guy off the bridge is to have him committed to a mental institution, which the state could do ... for up to a year.

And you know what that means.

Even if the state tells DeClemente "I got you, babe," he would be back on the street in 2015.

Just in time for Groundhog Day.

Reach Brian Hicks at

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