ST. PAUL, Minn. - I-94 is a busy, often chaotic interstate that can be tough for people in motor vehicles to navigate.
So just imagine the dangers of doing it on foot.
On Friday afternoon MnDOT traffic cameras captured images of a man walking down the middle of I-94 near 7th street as traffic backed up behind him in one lane and drove by just feet away in others. It appeared he was reading a book, sauntering along as if he were in a park on a walking path.
This went on for at least two minutes, likely longer, until a man pulled his vehicle off the interstate, jumped out and walked out into traffic himself. He gently put an arm around the man and walked him off i-94, talking to him all the while. The man resisted slightly, but eventually was convinced to go along with the good Samaritan. Once the two were safely out of the traffic lanes at least five others approached and made a non-threatening human circle around to man to keep him from walking back on the highway.
One of those who hopped out to help was Melanie Witthoft. Whitthoft, like many others in traffic were making her way back home after a long day of work.
Witthoft is a mental health care provider in the Twin Cities. She said Friday, her work day was tough, and was looking forward to a Friday night dinner with her family. However, when she saw the man on the highway on her way home, she said she couldn't help but stop.
"As soon as I saw him, I knew there was a mental health crisis," Witthoft said. "That's when I pulled over and tried to get a scene of who was all there, if police or emergency personnel was there and I didn't see anybody."
Traffic cameras show, Witthoft wearing a bright orange shirt, waving her arms while crossing the interstate lanes. Once she makes it over to the man, she says she just tried to talk to him in a soothing voice, getting below his eye-level.
"He was in a deep psychotic state where he wasn't able to engage," Witthoft explained. "So yeah, it was just trying to reassure him he's safe, making sure he didn't try to walk onto the highway again."
Witthoft said while she was talking to him, the man kept reading out loud from his book, which she said was a Bible.
Eventually a highway helper, two State Troopers and finally, an ambulance arrived on the scene to take the highway walker somewhere he could receive help. Witthoft said this is when the man spoke up. Before being loaded onto the stretcher, he handed her his driver's license and credit card and asked her to never forget him.
Witthoft says she handed over those two items to a trooper. She also says she will never forget the young man.