By BILL MILLER
FORT WORTH -- A looming rain storm late Monday afternoon helped police negotiators do what had eluded them for nearly four hours: coax a naked man from atop a billboard just west of the downtown area.
Officers at about 3:30 p.m. told the man they called James, who appeared to be in his early 20s, that rain was coming.
As clouds darkened overhead, the man, who had alternately trudged or crawled across the top of the billboard, finally slid down the structure's ladder.
Police handcuffed the man, whose full name was not immediately available, and put a pair of black shorts on him. Then they drove away with him in a patrol car.
About 30 minutes later, fierce winds and rain blanketed downtown.
The man's stepfather told reporters: "We're grateful to the police negotiators and the power of prayer."
Police had talked with the man for hours at the two-sided billboard on West Seventh Street, across from Trinity Park. He repeatedly threatened to jump.
The incident began about 11 a.m. and caused a traffic jam for drivers trying to enter downtown from the west or drive east toward the Montgomery Plaza Shopping Center.
It was unclear what had agitated the man to scale the billboard in the nude.
Also unclear was how he reached the top. The bottom of the ladder, which leads to a catwalk at the bottom of the billboard, was suspended about 12 feet from the ground.
His afternoon position was estimated to be about four stories in the air. The billboard facing west had a "We Buy Ugly Houses" advertisement on it. The billboard facing east advertised the Museum of Living Art at the Fort Worth Zoo.
The man could be heard yelling at police below him. He paced back and forth, sometimes frantically waving his arms, and other times crawling on all fours.
He occasionally sat on the edge of the billboard. Other times he straightened up and resembled a high diver about to take the plunge.
The man also stretched face down a couple of times; once, he sprawled backwards with his legs dangling over the side.
Much of the ordeal transpired beneath sunny, near cloudless skies and temperatures around 80.
Negotiators pleaded with the man to come down, warning him that he could become dehydrated, and repeatedly offered cold water.
"Don't move around too much up there," said a negotiator, on a public address system, calling the man by his first name. "You're making me nervous."
Early in the negotiations, the officer asked the man if he had a girlfriend, and the man angrily yelled her name.
Negotiators promised to let the man talk to her and his mother, but only after he agreed to come down from his perch.
Several times he yelled to the crowd gathered in a vacant parking lot, about a block away to the west. He screamed that his family had been murdered.
Negotiators said that wasn't true, and that his mother and girlfriend were waiting nearby, eager to talk to him.
People of all ages gathered in the parking lot. One man was dressed in a shirt and tie, another wore medical "scrubs" and a woman in casual, pajama-like pants came with a dog, one of several canine pets at the scene.
Many people snapped away with cellphone cameras, and fired off text messages. A couple people brought single-lens reflex cameras with long lenses.
The man screamed at officers, then he waved toward the crowd.
"They can help me!" he screamed at the officers. "You cannot! Where's my family? Someone murdered them!"
He yelled what sounded like his name, and that he was born in Breckenridge, Texas, and that he lived in nearby apartments.
The crowd was calm and orderly, but at about 1:40 p.m., an officer waved the people back. He said commanders wanted to take away the man's "audience" to keep him from getting more riled.
As the heat bore down, the man hunched over; he appeared to be retching. His hands were blackened, probably from soot atop the signs.
A second police officer took over negotiations at about 1 p.m. She continued the pleas, and the man could be heard again, yelling his replies.
The winds out of the west started to pick up at about 2:45 p.m., as cloud cover edged closer to the downtown area. National Weather Service radar showed that a line of storms was rolling into Fort Worth from Parker County.
Firefighters then repositioned a ladder truck beneath the billboard, which agitated the man.
At about the same time, negotiators stopped their constant pleas, and the man continued pacing back and forth.
But clouds covered the area and temperatures slid into the 60s. The man, who had stood naked for hours beneath the scorching sun, now folded his arms, as if to keep warm in the chilly wind gusts.
Officers warned him of the approaching weather.
He then hung from the edge of the billboard and dropped himself down to the catwalk. He stepped to the ladder and slid to the waiting firefighters and officers.
Staff writer Terry Evans contributed to this report.
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