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SMU Crane Suspect Falls To Death After Standoff

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Last Updated: May 29, 2012 12:45 PM

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - A robbery suspect, who climbed to the top of a construction crane on the Southern Methodist University campus on Monday and threatened to shoot police officers, fell to his death early Tuesday morning, ending a standoff that had started over 12 hours earlier.

Dallas SWAT officers, SMU police and University Park police all first responded to the scene, just outside Gerald J. Ford Stadium, on the south side of the SMU campus, around 11:30 a.m. on Monday. Police locked down the SMU campus and a nearby shopping center as a precaution. The campus had already been closed for the Memorial Day holiday, and only essential personnel were working, according to Brad Cheves, SMU’s Vice President for Internal Affairs. Campus police told those employees to leave the area.

The man was believed to be the same suspect in an aggravated robbery case which took place early Monday morning in the 1300 block of Commerce Street in downtown Dallas. That person stole a truck with band equipment, crashed into vehicles while careening through the streets and lead police on a pursuit that ended on the SMU campus. Police sources said that the suspect then climbed the crane in an attempt to escape.

The suspect was identified by police on Tuesday afternoon as 44-year-old Lee Dell Thomas Jr. but they would not confirm that the stolen truck case was related to the crane incident.

The temperature in Dallas on Monday reached 95 degrees. Sr. Cpl. Melidna Gutierrez with the Dallas Police Department said that the crane did not have power or air conditioning. At one point during the standoff, the man in the crane could be seen getting sick due to the heat. He began throwing up, and was witnessed taking off his shirt and shoes before breaking out a window and tossing the items out to the ground below.

As the hours passed on Monday, many rescue crews and officers rotated shifts to cover the scene.

The man spoke with authorities throughout much of the day on a two-way radio inside the crane’s cab. But communication broke off in the evening hours of Monday because he was reportedly afraid of going to jail. Around 9:30 p.m. on Monday evening, the suspect started throwing items from inside the crane’s cab. It is unclear what the items were. As time passed, the items grew larger, and included a box and the cab’s fire extinguisher.

A CBS 11 News photojournalist on the scene said that police officers climbed the tower early Tuesday morning in an attempt to reach the suspect. As the four officers approached, the man began spraying something from a bottle. “As the officers were attempting entry, they found the entry deck had been covered with grease by the suspect,” said Deputy Chief Randall Blankenbaker. “And as they were attempting entry, the suspect began spraying a substance at them, similar to WD-40.”

Eventually, the man tossed the spray can out of the side window and himself climbed out of the front window of the cab. Then, just before 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the suspect fell to his death while attempting to move himself from the outside front of the cab to the side.

Although the suspect had claimed to have a weapon, officers on scene said that he never showed a gun, and it appeared as though he never had one.

The scene remains active as police attempt to recover the man’s body. Parts of the area will remain blocked on Tuesday as authorities continue their investigation. However, campus operations at SMU are expected to continue as normal.

The crane is being used to build the Residential Commons, a future housing area near the football stadium.

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