Robbery suspect falls to death from crane on SMU campus in Dallas

A nearly 15-hour standoff ended early Tuesday in Dallas when a robbery suspect who climbed atop a construction crane on the campus of Southern Methodist University fell 150 feet to his death.

Lee Dell Thomas Jr., 44, had barricaded himself in the crane's cab Monday. He fell after Dallas police sent four officers up the crane to try to remove him, according to the Dallas Police Department.

The officers found the entry to the crane compartment covered in oil and the door secured shut. When they tried to open the door, Thomas sprayed a substance similar to WD-40 lubricant at them, police said.

Thomas had one leg inside and one leg outside the window of the compartment. Then, he clung to the crane's edge for a moment before falling to his death just before 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Thomas may have been involved in a robbery in Dallas, police said.

SMU is about five miles north of downtown Dallas. Reports indicated Thomas was not affiliated with the university.

"While SMU is relieved that the situation involving a man occupying a crane at the Residential Commons site is resolved and that the threat of danger has passed, we are saddened by the loss of life that occurred," a statement from the university said.

SMU issued an alert about an hour after Thomas' death that the campus was open and all buildings that had been emptied by police were back to keeping normal business hours.

Because of the Memorial Day holiday Monday, and with no classes in session, only essential SMU personnel and a limited number of student employees, students and visitors were on campus.

The broader campus community was informed via the SMU home page, Twitter and Facebook pages, and through residential hall building managers.

No student housing was in the at-risk areas. Student residence halls and the rest of campus remained open throughout Monday.

Thomas was spotted in the crane's control cab around 11:30 a.m. Monday, apparently trying to avoid arrest, local affiliates reported. Shortly afterward, he threw an unidentified object from the cab.

The crane was being used to build a housing area near the football stadium, according to CNN affiliate KTVT. The crane is also next to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, which is under construction.

Video from KTVT showed the silhouette of a man holed up in the cab of the crane, refusing to come down.

Local affiliates at the scene said Thomas got sick inside the cab Monday, possibly because the compartment didn't have air-conditioning. Members of the media saw him take off his shirt and shoes, break out a window and toss his clothing out.

By late Monday, a Twitter page parodying the then-unidentified Thomas had more than 1,200 followers.