The president of De La Salle High School is on medical leave after threatening to jump off the Huey P. Long Bridge on Monday in a frenetic scene that led to the closing of both spans for about three hours, according to government authorities and school officials.
Michael Giambelluca, a longtime educator in New Orleans, has been president of the coed Catholic high school on St. Charles Avenue since early 2016.
A man who was threatening to leap from the Huey P. Long Bridge on Monday afternoon has been safely taken off the bridge by first responders, a…
Carlton Dufrechou, the general manager of the Causeway Commission, which oversees the Huey P. Long Bridge, said an officer patrolling the bridge spotted what appeared to be a broken-down vehicle about 5 p.m.
As the officer got out, Giambelluca moved to the front of the car and then started going over the side of the bridge, which is about 135 feet high, he said.
The officer quickly approached Giambelluca and grabbed his clothing, but it ripped, Dufrechou said. Giambelluca went over the barrier and landed on a girder several feet below the roadway.
WWL-TV interviewed the officer who first encountered Giambelluca. That officer, Jason Sloan, told the station about Giambelluca: "He told me that he had ... made some poor decisions in his life, and he was just beyond help."
Bridge police contacted the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, which sent a crisis negotiator, a psychologist and Giambelluca's family members to help bring him to safety, Dufrechou said.
Giambelluca used a network of steel reinforcement beams that crisscross underneath the bridge to go back and forth between its two spans while threatening to jump into the river far below, prompting police to shut down the bridge in both directions.
About 8 p.m., Giambelluca came up, turned himself over to the custody of emergency responders, and was taken to a hospital to be evaluated, Dufrechou said.
“The good news is it was a save all the way around — not only with the driver, but also the first responders,” Dufrechou added. “Working up high on the Huey P. … is not the safest environment. It was also dark, and there are significant winds even on calm days.”
In a statement to news media Tuesday, the chairman of De La Salle's board of directors, Herb Anderson, said only that Giambelluca was on medical leave and that the school was "saddened by the reported incident." The school sent a similar note to its parents, and WWL-TV reported that it held an assembly to explain the situation to its 585 students in grades 8 to 12.
Anderson's statement said Giambelluca's family requested privacy.
Before taking the reins at De La Salle, Giambelluca served as principal of Jesuit High School from 2001 to 2013, helping the Mid-City Catholic school through its recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
He then became the first lay president of the Jesuit-run Creighton Prep in Omaha, Nebraska, serving there for a year. He later was principal of Christ the King Elementary School in Terrytown from 2014 until moving to De La Salle in 2016.
Prior to his time at Jesuit, Giambelluca had been the athletic director at St. Martin's Episcopal School in Metairie.
This post has been updated since it was first published to add comments made later in the day.