A suicidal Vietnam veteran facing deportation who was straddling a ledge on a South Florida highway ramp for hours surrendered to police Monday following a standoff, authorities said.
The man, identified by police as 59-year-old Fredy Gutierrez, caused massive traffic delays as he sat on the ledge on a ramp off Interstate 595 and the Florida Turnpike for nearly three hours as officers negotiated with him.
Davie Police spokesman Capt. Dale Engle said Gutierrez, of Sunrise, had a noose around his neck that was tied to a ladder rack on his van.
Footage showed Gutierrez peacefully approaching officers with hands in the air shortly after 11 a.m., nearly three hours after the standoff began. Engle said he will undergo a mental evaluation.
"Our negotiators did an outstanding job and were able convince this man to surrender to police," Engle said.
Engle said Gutierrez, a Vietnam veteran, told negotiators he's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"He feels that he is not getting the service that he needs through the Veterans Administration," Engle said.
At one point during the standoff, Gutierrez requested to speak with NBC 6 South Florida reporter Willard Shepard, who spoke with him on the phone before he surrendered. Shepard, who is also a veteran, said he tried to make Gutierrez see that taking his own life or harming others wouldn't improve his situation and would only make matters worse for his family.
"I spoke to him in military terms, telling him that the Air Force jets were on the way to provide the Army close air support – a reference to war scenarios where the Army ground troops can no longer fend off an enemy attack," said Shepard, who spent an hour with Gutierrez after he surrendered.
Family members said Gutierrez was troubled ever since he returned from Vietnam, where he served in the Army infantry and was shot down in a helicopter.
"I'm shocked," sister Zaira Morgan said after the incident ended. She said her brother was over at her house Sunday night, and she never expected him to do something like this.
The incident began around 8:15 a.m. when Gutierrez parked his van on the ramp from the southbound Turnpike to I-595. The ramp was closed, and the Turnpike's northbound and southbound lanes were also closed.
The eastbound and westbound lanes of 595 were also closed for over an hour before they were opened back up.
Davie Police and Florida Highway Patrol officials said Gutierrez had an assault rifle that was leaned against the white work van parked next to him. Officials said he did not fire any shots during the negotiations.
Footage showed him with one leg over the side of the ramp near the van with officers keeping their distance.
"I just knew in my heart that's got to be Freddy. Because I know how strongly he felt about this holiday,” said his wife, Teresa Gutierrez.
Police said he threatened to jump off the ramp at some point.
A negotiator was called to the scene, FHP spokesman Sgt. Mark Wysocky said.
"We want to bring it to a safe resolution and at the same time we want to get traffic moving as quickly as possible," Wysocky said.
All northbound traffic on the Turnpike was being forced to exit at Hollywood Boulevard, while the southbound lanes were shut down at Sunrise Boulevard.
Drivers had been urged to use Interstate 95 and U.S. 441 as alternates. The Turnpike and ramp later reopened.
Gutierrez is a Miami High School graduate. He ran into trouble when he got home from Vietnam. He spent five years in prison for attempted murder on his first wife and then a burglary arrest.
He will not face charges for Monday's incident.
But Gutierrez is facing deportation, his attorney Michelle Sanchez said. She is helping him appeal the decision made by an immigration judge.
Sanchez said she last spoke with Gutierrez on Friday, and he seemed to be losing hope.
"Freddy is a person who served honorably. He was injured in battle,” she said. “He is a person who this country would want as a United States citizen.”
He applied for citizenship in 1973 but has yet to receive it.
"He wants to be able to stay in this country, the one that he put his life on the line serving,” Teresa Gutierrez said. “That's all he wants.”
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