SMU Standoff Ends After Man Falls From Crane

WARNING VIDEO BELOW MAY BE DISTURBING: Video shows man who had been in a standoff with Dallas police inside a crane on the campus of Southern Methodist University climb out and fall to his death just before 2 a.m. Tuesday

The standoff between Dallas police and a man that climbed to the top of a construction crane at the Southern Methodist University ended early Tuesday morning when the man fell to his death.

Dallas police on Tuesday identified the man as 44-year-old Lee Dell Thomas Jr.

Police used bright lights, loud directional sirens and a police helicopter to distract Thomas while SWAT officers climbed the crane to storm the cab 150 feet above the ground at about 1 a.m., police said.

Police said Thomas sprayed a lubricant at officers as they entered the cab. He then climbed out of the smashed windshield of the cab.

"He retreated to a position in the crane where he had one leg in a window and one leg outside the window," Deputy Chief Randy Blankenbaker said. "From there, he went over the edge and clung to the edge for a moment before he fell to his death."

Thomas fell just before 2 a.m. Tuesday.

"We at SMU are relieved this situation has been resolved and the campus is secure. We all regret the loss of life," said SMU spokesman Brad Cheves.

PHOTOS: Timeline of SMU Crane Standoff | DRAMATIC VIDEO: Man Falls from SMU Crane

Thomas' mother, Ollie Mae Thomas, said her son had paranoid schizophrenia. She said people on his father's side also had the disease.

She said she saw some of the news coverage but never suspected the man in the crane was her son.

"It hurts," she said. "For some reason, it hasn't hit me yet."

Ollie Mae Thomas said the last words her son said to her on Saturday were: "I'll see you when I see you."

"The look he had on his face on Saturday -- he looked like he didn't care about the ground he walks on," she said.

Lee Dell Thomas Jr., who had been inside the crane cab for more than 14 hours, was suspected of an armed carjacking on Monday, Dallas police said.

Even hours into the standoff, police were unable to confirm whether or not Thomas was armed. When officers searched the crane after he fell, investigators learned he did not have a weapon.

Thomas did not move the crane during the standoff because it did not have power. Dallas police did not believe the cab had air conditioning but said Thomas may have had some food and water.

The crane is being used to build student housing and a dining hall on the campus.

The Federal Aviation Administration had ordered planes and helicopters to stay out of the area at the request of police.

Witnesses said some buildings on the SMU campus and a nearby gym were evacuated.

Streets from U.S. 75 toward the SMU campus on Mockingbird Lane were shut down Monday. SMU sent a tweet just before 3 a.m. Tuesday saying that the campus and all of its buildings would be open.

Dallas police SWAT units established communication with Thomas using hand signals and possibly a radio inside the cab of the crane.

Throughout the day, Thomas dropped items from the crane cab, including his shoes, some cans, a fire extinguisher and other items that may have been inside the cab.

Sources tell NBC 5 Thomas may have become ill during the standoff and vomited.

As night fell, Dallas police used a spotlight to shine light into the crane. Police also used noise machines to keep Thomas awake and talking.

Dallas police dogs tracked the man's scent near the construction site. Officers from SMU spotted the man in the crane and called in Dallas SWAT to assist.

Thomas spend 14 years in jail on different charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

His mother said he was imprisoned for shooting his girlfriend's mother. NBC 5 learned he was given additional time for assaulting a fellow inmate with a can of soup tucked inside a sock.

Suspect in Armed Robbery

Police did confirm Tuesday that Thomas was suspected in an overnight robbery at about 2:30 a.m. Monday.

David Cantu said he was putting sound and lighting equipment into a truck outside the Adolphus Hotel when a man jumped in and tried to stab him with something sharp, possibly a nail.

"I said, 'What are you doing?'" Cantu said. "He swung his arm at me with a sharp object and, for the most part, I just backed off and let him do his thing."

Cantu said the man sped away, hitting several cars parked along Main Street.

"You hear a big bang multiple times," he said. "He's hitting multiple cars at that point."

The stolen truck was later found not far from the crane, police said.

Chris Ghanbari, a freelance photographer who lives in a building overlooking the scene, got out his video camera and started rolling.

"I just started shooting a minute -- a minute-and-a-half -- of video of the crime scene," Ghanbari said. "About 30 minutes later, we had 10 to 15 police cars out there."

Here is his video:

NBC 5's Ray Villeda, Scott Gordon, Ellen Goldberg, Omar Villafranca and others contributed to this report. Follow additional updates on this and other stories on our Twitter account @NBCDFW

Contact Us