Just after 7pm Sunday, a long stretch of I-27 was shut down. Traffic slowed to a crawl on an access road as police cars sealed off the 66th St. bridge. In the darkness, on the ledge, a man in emotional distress.
"Well, the first thing going through my head is to get him off the bridge," said Sergeant Mike Steen, one of the LPD's 5 negotiators, called to the scene to try and save a life. "As far as where do I begin it's, 'My name is Mike, what's going on today?,'" he said.
The man's name on the bridge was Milton Hernandez. A 42-year-old construction worker, married, with a 10-year-old son.
"We looked and said, 'Somebody's going to jump,'" said Joyce Ochoa, one of those driving by in disbelief. She decided to use the situation as a lesson on life for her teenage daughter. "I kept circling around and said, 'This is what can happen when you think no one cares for you,'" she said.
On the bridge, Sergeant Steen was making every effort to make a connection and to show Hernandez options. "It's your job to show them another way," he said.
As time wore on and the temperature fell, Hernandez reached for his jacket. Meanwhile, Joyce received a phone call from a relative. "And she said Milton was talking about jumping off a bridge, and I said, 'No, really?,' and she said, 'Yes, so just drive by and make sure it's not him, make sure it's not him,'" she said.
But it was him, and suddenly the stranger on the bridge, a lesson on the depths of despair, became Milton Hernandez, Joyce Ochoa's brother-in-law. "It was ironic that I kept circling and never went home. And I said to my daughter, 'You don't think this can happen, but it can,'" she said.
Three hours became four, and just when four turned to five, fatigue became the main problem for a man in cowboy boots on a six inch ledge with moisture in the air. "And we told him there was a danger that he was going to slip," said Steen.
And that is what happened. A 30 foot fall. The ambulance waiting under the bridge immediately taking him to UMC. His condition serious, but stable. His family open with their grief for the sake of helping others. "Hopefully it'll make them realize that life is too precious to just not think that there's nobody there for you, because there's always somebody," said Joyce.