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Texas robbery suspect in 150ft crane death fall

A man dangled from a 150ft construction crane before falling to his death at a college campus in Texas after a 14-hour stand-off, police said.

The man spent a sweltering afternoon on the crane at the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, fully exposed to the sun. He warned officers he was armed and would shoot anyone who approached him.

Two officers who climbed the crane discovered he had sprayed a greasy substance in the area near the crane's cab, preventing them from reaching him, said Deputy Chief Randy Blankenbaker.

The man pulled himself out of the cab and briefly dangled from the crane - holding on with just his hands - before dropping to his death.

Police later said no weapon was found, either on the man's body or in the crane cab.

Officers later identified him as Lee Dell Thomas Jr, 44, and said he might have been involved in a robbery on Monday in which a vehicle was stolen.

Kent Best, an SMU spokesman, said the man was a suspect fleeing from Dallas police.

The university campus was closed for Memorial Day but reopened yesterday.

The crane is being used for campus housing projects.

Assistant Chief Thomas Lawrence told a news conference later: "It was an unfortunate outcome.

"We have to resolve things the best way we can. We tried to do the best we could."

Mr Lawrence said Thomas was "a person of interest" in the hijacking on Monday of a truck containing band equipment, but he had not been conclusively linked to the heist.

The truck was found near the crane, Deputy Chief Randal Blankenbaker said, and police dogs traced a trail from the vehicle to the construction site, but lost the scent there.

About midday on Monday, Thomas scrambled up the crane and into its cab. Communications between Thomas and officers on the ground were patchy, Mr Lawrence said.

"We were trying to get him to agree to come down from the crane for his safety."

Thomas cut off all communication with police about midnight, Mr Lawrence said. Two special tactics officers who climbed the crane at around 1am on Tuesday discovered that Thomas had barricaded himself in the cab and covered the surrounding area with grease. He then sprayed a grease "similar to WD40" toward the officers, police said.

Thomas pulled himself out of the cab and briefly clung to the crane before dropping to his death.

"I don't know if anyone can say why he went up there," Mr Blankenbaker said.

Online criminal records showed that Thomas spent 13 years in the Texas state prison system for a 1991 aggravated assault conviction and a subsequent conviction for aggravated assault while in prison. He was released in 2004.

Thomas's mother told a local television station she was not surprised to learn of her son's death and that their family had a history of mental illness.

Ollie Mae Thomas told KTVT-TV that Thomas's grandfather committed suicide and his father was a paranoid schizophrenic. She also said her son began using drugs at an early age.

She said Thomas sought treatment for his mental illness when he left prison, but stopped taking the medication after two months.

"He said he didn't like the way the medication made him feel," she added.

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