While there have been no reported human deaths as a result of the gridlock surrounding the suicide threat on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge last Thursday, there has been at least one feline death.
Anne Perkinson was working near the bridge in Mt. Pleasant when she found out that someone had stopped his SUV between the two spans and was causing a major traffic jam while threatening to harm himself. She had a cat named Miss Kitty at home who had been having difficulty breathing that morning, and she decided to leave work early before traffic got any worse.
"I'd been concerned about Kitty all day," Perkinson says. "It was dicey."
Even though her route did not take her across the bridge, she found herself navigating heavy traffic as motorists scrambled to the Mark Clark Expressway to get around the Ravenel Bridge. When she finally got home, her 18-year-old cat was taking shallow breaths, although she did not seem to be in distress yet. At 5:30 p.m., she and her husband, Ken, decided to drive the cat to the Mt. Pleasant Emergency Veterinary Hospital on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard. The trip from their home in Longpoint, which would normally take about 15 minutes, doubled in length as she battled traffic on Whipple Road. The man on the bridge, Phillip Louis DeClemente, had surrendered to police by then, but roadways were still packed bumper-to-bumper as far away as West Ashley and North Charleston.
When they finally arrived at the veterinary hospital, they found it short-staffed, and a pet owner in the lobby said some of the night-shift workers were held up in traffic (a hospital representative, reached by phone, was not available for comment on Thursday's staffing situation). As they waited in the reception area, Miss Kitty started showing distress that Perkinson at first thought was a sign of a seizure, but it turned out to be cardiac arrest.
"Had we been able to get there in the amount of time that it should have taken to get there, it's hard to say what would have happened, but she probably would have lived," Perkinson says. "She would not have had to die in such distress."
When she got back home, Perkinson went online to read news stories and find out more about what had driven DeClemente to his standoff with police on the bridge.
"I really wanted to lash out at him and say, 'Oh, you selfish SOB, I can't believe you would put so many people's lives at stake,'" she says. "But I've made it past the bitterness, and I've moved past the anger and my own personal guilt." She adds that she now feels sorry for DeClemente and hopes he can find the counseling he needs.
The whole ordeal got Perkinson thinking about what the authorities can do when a major traffic artery is blocked for hours.
"It was eye-opening," she says. "When an incident like that happens, how do the people that need care get where they need to be?"