Thousands lose power after man climbs tower

rparsons@mercedsun-star.comJanuary 11, 2014 

A man with suspected mental health issues scaled a transmission tower Saturday afternoon in Atwater, forcing utility officials to cut power to more than 16,000 Merced County homes and businesses as a safety precaution.

The 47-year-old man climbed the 130-foot tower at the northeast corner of Nebela Drive and Piro Drive and was spotted dangling by his arms about 2:22 p.m., Atwater police Sgt. Dick Wisdom said.

“We’ve had prior contacts with this individual and recently he had to be Tased because he became violent,” Wisdom noted.

Police said the man is a military veteran who may suffer from a mental health disorder and was possibly suicidal Saturday. He had been drinking alcohol earlier in the day, police said.

Merced County sheriff’s deputies tried speaking with the man, but he ignored authorities for the better part of an hour. The man climbed nearly to the top of the tower before coming back down about halfway several times, police said.

“He went right up near the top of the tower near the live wires,” Wisdom said.

As a safety precaution, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. officials cut the tower’s electricity at 3:08 p.m., which left 16,650 residents in Atwater and Merced without power, according to J.D. Guidi, a PG&E spokesman.

Several businesses, including the Merced Mall, were also darkened for about an hour, police said.

“Some business ended up closing early as a result,” Wisdom said.

Police said the man surrendered about 3:30 p.m. without further incident and was not injured.

Deputy Delray Shelton confirmed that deputies helped talk the man into coming down.

Power was fully restored to all businesses and residents about 4:09 p.m., PG&E said.

The man was admitted to the Marie Green Psychiatric Center in Merced, police said.

“We’re glad nobody was hurt,” Wisdom said. “I hope he gets the help he needs.”

Reporter Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsun-star.com or (209) 385-2482.

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