Crime - Sacto 911

Why police insist they had to close two Sacramento freeways

Highway 50 closed near La Riviera due to police activity

Highway 50 was closed in both directions near La Riviera Sunday afternoon due to police activity, according to Caltrans.
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Highway 50 was closed in both directions near La Riviera Sunday afternoon due to police activity, according to Caltrans.

Twice in recent days, Sacramento freeways turned into public stages for life and death drama – with drivers stuck as the unwilling audience.

On Sunday, officials closed Highway 50 in both directions for two hours to deal with a suicidal man as he sat in his crumpled car with a gun in hand. Days earlier, just before the Thursday commute, officers closed Highway 99 for more than nine hours while they dealt with another man who was stalking an overpass, at times straddling the barrier and threatening to jump.

In each case, it meant delays and crowded detours for thousands of motorists and commuters, prompting driver questions about police tactics. California Highway Patrol officials said the closures were necessary. They needed the time, the space and some measure of privacy to calm the men down, saving their lives and protecting the public.

In Sunday’s Highway 50 incident, officers say the man could have fired his gun at another motorist if police had allowed cars through. In the Highway 99 incident, the jumper could conceivably have landed on a car on the freeway below, harming someone else.

Crisis negotiations often take time, CHP Officer Eulogio Ceja said. “It is not something that happens in 10 minutes. We ask the public to be understanding.”

In each case, officials displayed warning messages on nearby freeway sign boards, and officials say it’s often smart for drivers to check online traffic maps before heading out to freeways, to see if there are any traffic issues.

Sunday’s incident was particularly tense. Sacramento police had responded to reports of a suicidal man with a gun at a house. When officers arrived, the man fled in a Ford Mustang, leading police on a chase. He lost control on Highway 50 near Watt Avenue, hitting a guard rail and coming to a stop in the freeway, his car disabled.

CHP shut the highway while negotiators talked with the man on his cell phone. They eventually persuaded him to toss his gun and firearm magazines out of the car and allow himself to be taken in to custody.

“Our crisis negotiators established a rapport,” Police Sgt. Vance Chandler said. “They were able to end this in a peaceful way.”

The 42-year-old was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun. Chandler said officials are not releasing the man’s name in order to protect him and his family. “We feel that this guy needs help. He was experiencing a crisis.”

The earlier incident in south Sacramento on May 2 prompted a much longer closure on Highway 99, starting just before the Thursday afternoon commute.

A distraught man, believed to be homeless, was walking back and forth on the overpass, threatening to jump. A CHP officer who knows the man arrived on scene that night and talked him in to giving himself up.

“We recognize we did create an inconvenience, but at the same time, this was an individual in crisis and we were trying to save a life,” CHP Officer Jim Young said.