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Tappan Zee Bridge sees laid off employee dangle, stop traffic

The Tappan Zee Bridge in New York saw miles of traffic, Monday, when a laid off employee lowered himself from a rope ladder and dangled from the bridge for hours.

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Tappan Zee Bridge: A man dangles from the Tappan Zee Bridge near Tarrytown, N.Y., Monday. Rockland County spokesman Ron Levine says he is unsure of the man's complaints.

Craig Ruttle/AP

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A fired government worker with a protest sign dangled for hours from New York's Tappan Zee Bridge on Monday, backing up traffic for miles before dropping into the Hudson River and being hauled aboard a police boat.

Michael Davitt, of Garnerville, N.Y., had been angry about being dismissed in 2008 from his counseling job with the Rockland County mental health department and was well known to law enforcement, county Sheriff James Kralik said.

On Monday morning, Davitt drove a van onto the bridge, lowered a rope ladder that was anchored to the van and climbed down, then sat in a harness for more than three hours about 65 feet above the river.

He swayed in the wind and occasionally swigged from a bottle.

Attached to his apparatus was a banner accusing Rockland officials of a "cover-up" and "retaliation."

"This is bizarre," county spokesman Ron Levine said. "This is a very strange way of making a point."

He said Davitt had applied for and been given a disability retirement pension.

At about 2 p.m., state police on the bridge deck attached tethers to the rope ladder and lowered Davitt nearly to the water, hoping to get him into a police boat, said state police Capt. Evelyn Mallard.

He then jumped from a height of about 10 feet and swam away, apparently uninjured. After a couple of minutes in the water, he grabbed a lifeline and was hauled onto a Yonkers police boat and handcuffed.

The boat took him to a dock in Tarrytown, where he was taken to the Westchester Medical Center for evaluation, Mallard said. She said charges would not be filed before the evaluation.

The Tappan Zee bridge is a major crossing north of New York City that carries Interstate 87 between suburban Westchester and Rockland counties. The rescue effort forced crews to stop eastbound traffic, backing up vehicles for miles.

Davitt had loudly voiced his protests at Rockland County Legislature meetings and had sent letters "which some people considered threatening," Kralik said. Deputies were dispatched to the meetings to keep an eye on him, but he had never been arrested, the sheriff said.

Davitt also sometimes picketed by himself outside the county building in New City and tried to argue his case to county officials, Kralik said.

"We decided to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn't step over the line, and he never did," Kralik said. "Today he not only stepped over the line, he jumped over it."

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