A standoff between a man on top of a VTA train in San Jose and Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputies early Thursday morning tied up traffic and delayed the morning commute along the train's route for 12 hours.
It peacefully ended just after 1 p.m. The man was finally convinced to come down by a deputy who arrested him last month that he had built "a rapport with," Sgt. James Jensen said, and who was offered a bag of trail mix he spotted in the cherry picker that took him down.
Kyle Lewis, 25, of Prunedale, who was spitting at deputies and later yelling about wanting to "mess up people's commutes," was escorted away - shirtless - by deputies, Jensen said. He was later booked for disrupting a VTA line, a misdemeanor, and faces up to a year in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. Jensen said he was also arrested on these misdemeanor charges: resisting arrest, being under the influence of a narcotic, and assault on an officer, for spitting.
Train service in the area was restored soon thereafter.
The frustrating morning began when Lewis, on probation for nonviolent offenses, first hopped on top of the light rail train at North First and Component streets, just outside the NBC Bay Area studio, about 1:20 a.m., according to Jensen.
Lewis spent hours on top of the train, wrapped in a yellow blanket, as deputies tried to convince him verbally to come down. Jensen said deputies did not want the situation to turn volatile and did not want to harm him or Tase him. At one point, Lewis was seen taking a nap on top of the train. At some point, his yellow blanket was taken away.
As the standoff entered its 11th hour, Judge Stephen Manley, who oversees the Santa Clara County Court mental health efforts, was pulled from the courthouse to come help and advise. Manley has been critical of Sheriff Laurie Smith's supervision when three of her jail deputies allegedly beat inmate Michael Tyree to death in August. But it was Smith who decided to call the judge in for help, Jensen said. "The sheriff reached out to him just to get his insight," Jensen said, adding that the judge was only there for 20 to 30 minutes.
But it was a deputy who arrested Lewis last month for an undisclosed reason, who recognized the man and offered to come down to try to help. The deputy, who didn't want to be named, talked to some crisis intervention negotiators for advice and was able to get Lewis to come down, Jensen said.
Jensen said despite the commuting headache, he was glad the situation ended without any violence, force or tragedy.
"It's a huge relief that it resolved in a safe manner," Jensen said. "None of the deputies got hurt, and Kyle was not injured."
Lewis' rooftop decision left Silicon Valley VTA commuters, and even those on surrounding highways, delayed for hours. The light rail agency had to set up bus bridges to help out, as the North First Station was closed throughout the standoff.
"It was just really disrupting," said commuter Jorinda Gallardo. "I actually had to have somebody drive me to work because I would have been way too late."
VTA spokeswoman Brandi Childress credited the quick thinking of the VTA operator who first spotted Lewis and kept him from getting hit on the tracks or electrocuted on top.
Childress reminded the public that electricity through the trains carries between 750 and 850 volts of direct current and that trespassing on trains is an obvious no-no.
"Today we were extremely fortunate because we were able to proactively power down before the individual made contact with the high-voltage lines," she said. "Unless there is an emergency or extenuating circumstances, the entire overhead system is fully powered and can cause electrocution upon contact."
The VTA added that it will thoroughly investigate the incident and re-evaluate its policies, if needed.