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Below A Michigan Overpass, Truckers Make A Safety Net

The most heartening photo I've seen in a while is the one this week of 13 trucks: semitrailers, big rigs, parked shoulder to shoulder, you might say, below an overpass in Michigan at 1 a.m. on Tuesday. Police in the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods had received a call: There was a man on the Coolidge Highway overpass who said he was going to jump.

Local authorities and the Michigan State Police immediately closed down all lanes on both sides of Interstate 696, which runs below the Coolidge overpass.

"It's the first step in potential jumper situations," Lt. Mike Shaw of the state police told NPR.

Who is driving along I-696 at 1 in the morning? Probably late-shift maintenance workers, hospital staff — and lots of cross-country truck drivers.

State troopers went from truck to truck backed up in the stalled traffic and told drivers, who were probably disconcerted to be delayed, that a human life was at stake on that overpass. They asked the drivers to pull out from the long line of vehicles and park their big rigs under the bridge.

Thirteen trucks soon filled the lanes below the overpass.

"It provides a safety net for the person in case they happen to lose their grip and fall or if they decide to jump," said Shaw. "They're only falling about 5 to 6 feet as opposed 15 or 16."

The trucks stayed there for about three hours, until the troubled man came off of the overpass and could be taken to a hospital for examination and counseling. One of the truckers, Chuck Harrison, said on Facebook that a highway patrol officer walked to the cab of each truck and shook the driver's hand to thank them for answering the call to help.

Suicide is on the rise in this, the country of the richest economy in the world. Suicides in the United States increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the greatest surge coming after 2006.

That man on the overpass has not been identified and may decide to keep his story confidential. But he was able to see, in his lowest moments, in the middle of a desolate night, that 13 strangers who happened to be truckers were willing to help bring their busy lives and the fast-passing world to a halt for him, for a while.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.