TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- A protester who dangled by a rope from the Tappan Zee Bridge for more than three hours today was lowered to safety and taken into police custody. As he was being lowered, the man unhooked the harness that held him, dove into the water and tried to swim away. He was caught within moments by police on a rescue boat.
The protester, Michael Davitt, 54, of Garnerville, dangled beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge from about 10:45 a.m. to nearly 2 p.m. Held by a harness about 75 feet above the river, Davitt sat atop a banner that alleged Rockland government corruption.
Police haven't charged him with anything yet, said Captain Evelyn Mallard, of the state police. Davitt was brought to Westchester Medical Center for evaluation.
About 10:37 a.m. Davitt parked his van on the Westchester bound side of the bridge, hooked himself up to a rope that was hanging onto a chain link fence on the bridge and climbed down. A Thruway worker spotted him as he was climbing down and called it in.
Davitt was able to climb down and dangle before police could get to the scene, Mallard said. He remained suspended from the bridge for three hours until the rescuers were able to secure his rope, Mallard said.
Police lowered him down, intending him to land on a boat below. When he was 10 feet from the water, “the gentleman dove into the water and attempted to swim away,” Mallard said. He was quickly taken into custody by police.
Davitt was prepared, Mallard said. He had a thermos and some cigarettes. This was “something he had obviously thought about,” Mallard said.
Mallard noted that Davitt couldn't have hung on for much longer. The chain link fence he had attached his rope to was damaging the rope.
“He wouldn't have been able to hang on indefinitely,” Mallard said.
There was very little interaction between police and Davitt, Mallard said, although at one point he asked for a pipe.
Davitt, of Rockland, had been fired from the county's Mental Health Department, law enforcement sources said.
The blue banner he unfurled targeted Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef and the Rockland County Legislature, and read, in part, "Rockland Executive Legislature Coverup Retaliation."
Dolores Eyler, a resident of the Hudson Harbor complex that sits on the riverfront in Tarrytown, had been in Rye at the beauty parlor when she heard about the protestor and decided to come watch at the Hudson RiverWalk Park, where a crowd gathered to watch the action.Eyler watched the whole thing through a pair of binoculars she brought with her. "I saw one splash and then I saw him splash right before he hit the boat," she said. The rescue boats then quickly moved away from the bridge, although the protestor's harness hung empty from the bridge.
Ron Levine, a spokesman for Vanderhoef, said of the protestor, "One doesn't have to hang from the bridge to get his message across."
Carla Pellicci, of Tarrytown, was taking a walk by the riverfront when she saw news helicopters flying overhead.
"I thought it was an Occupy Wall Street protester," Pellicci said. "I'm just amazed that anyone would do anything like this. It's unnerving."
Police boats from Yonkers, Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County and New York State responded. The New York State Thruway Authority's tugboat also responded.