Charges issued after bridge standoff

March 28, 2008 3:43:56 PM PDT
Police say Johnny Reed of Twisting Lane in Winslow Township is the man who stopped his vehicle on the Walt Whitman Bridge, engaged in a three-hour standoff with police and stranded thousands of motorists in the process. The incident began around 4:20 when New Jersey State Police tried to stop a Cadillac Escalade for speeding on Route 42. The 8-mile pursuit was called off just before the bridge.

"We called off the pursuit after a few minutes because he was driving erratically, and we didn't want anyone to get hurt," said Capt. Al Della Fave of the New Jersey State Police.

State police alerted other law enforcement authorities to the speeding SUV.

Around 4:30, the vehicle stopped on its own in the westbound lanes of the Walt Whitman Bridge.

A witness told Action News reporter Chad Pradelli that the driver had gotten out of the vehicle holding the baby and a bat. The witness said the man started shouting and swinging the bat at passing vehicles. Police said at least two vehicles sustained damage.

"At one point, he showed the butt of a weapon to a DRPA sergeant. That probably was the toy gun that we ended up recovering at the scene," said State Police Sgt. Steven Jones. It turned out to be a toy gun.

State police said Reed had some kind of contact with state troopers last week. Della Fave said the same trooper that the man spoke last week was negotiating with him on the bridge Thursday night.

For the next three hours the standoff continued as police negotiators talked to Reed and eventually signed a document that he, his girlfriend 31-year-old Monica Hayman and their 1-year-old son Johnny would not be harmed.

During the standoff, hundreds of drivers remained stuck on the bridge. Elaine White, her two grandkids and her mother were on the bridge for the entire ordeal.

"We was just stuck," said White. "My mom, 93, started to get sick, throwing up. After about 2 hours, I called 911," said White.

As the standoff dragged on, and emergency vehicles moved into place, drivers could only watch and wait. Many listened to Action News on the radio for updates while others got information by word of mouth.

"A lot of rumors. It goes from a bat to a gun to a bomb. We wanted out, off the bridge," said Christine McAtee.

"It's a little frustrating, but I hear there is a guy with a gun. I just hope the baby is safe," said Mike Wetzel.

After a couple of hours, police began backing cars off the bridge, one by one. Other traffic was detoured to nearby roads.

Shortly after 7:00, an armored police vehicle drove up to the Escalade with SWAT officers behind it. After a brief negotiation, Reed and Hayman lay on the ground and police surrounded them. Both were taken into custody. The ordeal ended peacefully.

Traffic was slowly restored on the bridge. Police finally reopened the Walt Whitman Bridge in both directions around 9:00 p.m..

Johnny L. Reed and Monica Hayman were undergoing psychological evaluations Friday at a Camden hospital.

State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones said Reed, 35, of Winslow Township, was being held on $70,000 bail, charged with criminal restraint, aggravated assault and terroristic threats for threatening to blow up the bridge on Thursday.

Hayman, 31, of the same address, was charged with obstruction, resisting arrest, conspiracy to commit criminal restraint and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, Jones said. Her bail was $65,000 with a 10 percent option.

The child, Johnny Reed V, age 1, was taken to Cooper University Medical Center in Camden to be examined as a precaution. He was to be turned over to the New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services, authorities said.

New Jersey State Police Detective Sgt. Chris Leone, one of three negotiators involved, said that Reed repeatedly claimed he was being persecuted by the federal government and local police. "He thought he was being tracked by unknown vehicles continuously," Leone said.

Police say among other things Reed wanted to talk to Michelle Obama and air his grievances.

State police said Reed had visited the Bellmawr barracks on Easter Sunday to lodge what Fuentes characterized as "nondescript personal complaints" about incidents in his hometown. Troopers there referred him back to his local police department and he left without incident.

Some information from The Associated Press.