DALLAS — He spent 14 hours atop a towering crane before falling 15 stories to his death early Tuesday morning.
We are now learning more about Lee Dell Thomas Jr., whose bizarre standoff with police at a construction site on the SMU campus has North Texas talking.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Dallas police Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence provided the first details of Thomas' final minutes.
"Our intent was to get him to come down," he said. "At some point after midnight, he completely shut off communicating with us; we believed the situation was escalated; and around that time we made a decision to try to send a team of SWAT officers up the crane ... to try to reestablish communications with him, and to hopefully get him down safely from the crane so we could get him whatever help he needed."
Lawrence said the situation took a bad turn as soon as the tactical team arrived on the platform to confront Thomas.
"He then reached around and physically crawled outside the front of the crane — where he had previously broken out the windows — and started spraying something at the officers; I believe it was some type of lubricant," Thomas said. "He continued to do this. He initially put one leg outside the crane. Then he put the second leg outside the crane, and at some point in that interaction there, he ended up getting in to a position where he had slipped and he was hanging from the window... either the window or the window wipers of the front of the crane."
Shortly after that, Lawrence said, Thomas fell to his death. He said investigators found no evidence of a weapon when they reached the cab.
Ollie May Thomas said she watched news coverage of the standoff involving a man who climbed up on a crane and threatened the people below.
"I said to myself in my own mind, 'The person up there is going to burn up up there.' That's what I said. I had no idea it was my child up there," she said.
Thomas didn't know it was her son dangling 150 feet in the air until police came to tell her after he fell to his death.
"I had no idea he was going to do something crazy," she said.
Thomas said her son was a tormented person. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was off his medication and hooked on crack cocaine.
He also went to prison for shooting his girlfriend's mother in the face.
Police believe he may have committed a carjacking before climbing to the top of the crane. His mother believes desperation and fear of going back to prison caused him to do this.
"I think he gave up," she said, "He had a hard life. I think he gave up."
Thomas said her son had been living on the streets, but she did get to see him on Saturday.
"Like I said, I feel real empty because he didn't say anything. I couldn't talk to him or pray with him or nothing," Thomas said. "He said, 'I'll see you when I see you.'"