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Woman At Center of Dramatic Drawbridge Rescue Could Be Charged

One 911 caller reported that a big ladder was needed to get the woman down, saying, "I don't know how long she is going to last"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A woman who had to be rescued after she became stuck and hanging on a Fort Lauderdale railroad bridge could face charges in the incident, a spokesman for the railroad said Monday. On Monday authorities released 911 calls of Saturday's incident, while Fort Lauderdale firefighter Michael Hughes told NBC 6 how he climbed up a 24-foot ladder to rescue the woman. NBC 6’s Christina Hernandez reports. (Published Monday, Oct 14, 2013)

    A woman who had to be rescued after she became stuck and hanging on a Fort Lauderdale railroad bridge could face charges in the incident, a spokesman for the railroad said Monday.

    On Monday authorities released 911 calls of Saturday's incident, in which the 55-year-old Dania Beach woman was rescued from the drawbridge after she ended up hanging on with her hands and feet as the bridge moved into an upright position.

    Witnesses Describe Seeing Woman Dangling Off New River Railroad Bridge in Fort Lauderdale

    [MI] Witnesses Describe Seeing Woman Dangling Off New River Railroad Bridge in Fort Lauderdale
    Fort Lauderdale firefighters rescued a breast cancer walk participant Saturday after she got stuck on a railroad bridge as it was lifting into the air. NBC 6's Gilma Avalos spoke with witness Ashanicka Powell about the event. (Published Sunday, Oct 13, 2013)

    Neighbors identified her as Wanda McGowan. No one answered when NBC 6 knocked on her door Monday.

    Witnesses said McGowan, believed to be a participant in an area breast cancer awareness event, stayed calm as she held on about 22 feet above the train tracks. Firefighter Michael Hughes said he climbed up a 24-foot ladder to help her down – about 20 minutes after the incident began, the 911 calls show.

    “I straddled her with my arms, I told her this is what we’re going to do – ‘You’re going to put your feet on the top rung, and then we’re going to climb down together, OK?’” Hughes said.

    Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the bizarre incident that happened Saturday in the 200 block of 200 Southwest 2nd Street, Florida East Coast Railway Senior VP Bob Ledoux said.

    "Clearly, if she was healthy and there were no other issues we will most likely charge her," Ledoux said.

    There are "No Trespassing" signs posted on both sides and the bridge is in the up position 95 percent of the time, Ledoux said. He said the woman must have walked on the bridge, which is operated remotely from Jacksonville, as it went up automatically right after a train had passed.


    "It's dangerous to be on the bridge, a train had just gone by," Ledoux said. "The bridge was only down a couple of minutes."

    Initially a few 911 callers reported that two women were stuck on the railroad bridge after it opened up. But later callers talked about just one woman.

    Witnesses who saw McGowan hanging onto the bridge between the Riverfront and the historic district Saturday morning posted photos and videos on Twitter and Instagram. Many of those who watched the situation unfold were, like her, wearing pink shirts from the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk.


    "We need (a) big ladder or something like that to get her down. I don't know how long she is going to last,” one 911 caller said.

    The calls reflected the urgency of the situation, with one witness telling a 911 operator, “Somebody needs to contact them to bring the bridge down now. I don't know how much longer she's going to be able to hold on.”

    One caller could even be heard offering McGowan comfort.

    “They're on their way. They're on their way. Hang in there,” the caller told her.

    Ledoux said the railroad has the same police powers and can charge the woman with trespassing.

    "We don't know why local police didn't press charges, they could have pressed charges," he said.

    He said the railroad is still investigating the incident and looking into whether there were any extenuating circumstances as to why she was on the bridge. A decision to charge her will be made later Monday or Tuesday, Ledoux said.

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