By Gordy Holt
Mount Vernon -- Waving a pocket knife and spouting biblical phrases, a man ran naked into Interstate 5 traffic here early yesterday and managed to climb atop a semitrailer that had swerved and stopped to avoid hitting him.
The incident tied up traffic for about four hours, drawing police as well as a crowd of onlookers.
I really felt sorry for the him. Really. Poor guy, said Mary Hudson, an employee at Wells Nursery near where the truck was parked. There he was, without a stitch. He looked pretty forlorn.
Police had not confirmed the mans identity, but said he is about 35 years old and travels with a small black dog.
Promises of water about 9:30 a.m. finally got the mans attention and brought him down. As he reached the pavement, he was rushed by about 20 officers. He was taken to Skagit Valley Hospital, then transferred to a nearby mental facility.
Mike Marker, a detective investigating the case, said the man is in custody under mental health evaluation.
Dave Owens, night manager at Friendship House, a private homeless shelter near the freeway, said the man stopped at the shelter to ask for food Thursday night. Another client said the man was named Jeremiah.
Owens said he fed the man, who talked little and took the food outside to sit with his dog.
Shelter manager Russell Smith said the man continually talked to the dog saying, I love you, I love you, I love you.
It was a little bizarre, but not unusual for here, Smith said.
Owens said the man seemed upset at something, said his dog was sick. But he was polite, very polite, and very calm.
By early morning, something had changed.
Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Barness said officers responded to a 5:30 a.m. report of an unwanted man lurking in the bushes near the Friendship House. An attempt to interview the man turned into a scuffle. He ran towards I-5s Kincaid Street exit, stripping off his clothes as he ran.
Confusion ensued. Barsness said startled drivers swerved and slowed to avoid hitting the man. The now-naked man grabbed at the door of one vehicle, only to find it locked, then climbed onto the trailer of a semi truck-and-trailer rig parked on the freeway shoulder. From his perch he shouted biblical references and shook his fists at police, Barsness said.
Within minutes, all lanes of the freeway were at a standstill.
It was quite a mess, Barsness said.
Throughout the standoff, the naked man kept up his harangue.
I am poisoned! he yelled. My veins are poisoned! Copper is the only thing that will help me.... Sunflowers have copper! I need sunflowers!
He also told police to get down on your knees and pray!
Every so often, he used a pocket knife to whack off chunks of his hair.
But by the time it was over, Barsness said, there wasnt much left he could get ahold of.
Barsness said the I-5 closure was unavoidable.
You take these things one step at a time, depending on the situation, he said.
Barsness said the four-hour closure would not have lasted much longer had the man not given up.
Situations dictate how long something like this will last, he said. But our first concern is life. Were not going to speed up anything if a life is in danger.
The freeway closure is the third recent episode where unusual behavior caused traffic tie-ups.
On March 3, Seattle police closed Aurora Avenue North for seven hours before taking into custody an armed, elderly man who had barricaded himself in his apartment.
And on April 4 police held up downtown Seattle traffic for 11 hours while negotiating with a man brandishing a samurai sword.
A 37-year-old Bellingham woman died yesterday morning after driving a steamroller into a ditch. The woman was working in a construction area on Birch Bay Lynden Road at about 11:00 a.m. She was trapped under the steamroller and died at the scene.