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Grand Forks Fire and Rescue personnel pulls a man toward shore after he reportedly jumped from the Sorlie Bridge into the Red River on Wednesday evening. (Sarah Kolberg/Grand Forks Herald)

Grand Forks man survives jump off Sorlie Bridge

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GRAND FORKS -- Responding to a report of a person lying in front of downtown traffic, Grand Forks officers arrived to see a 38-year-old man jump from the Sorlie Bridge into the Red River on Wednesday evening.

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"We got on scene, saw him out on the bridge standing out over the rail, hanging out over the rail," Officer Travis Benson said. "We saw him up there maybe 10 seconds, he saw us, and then he leapt."

The man's jump shortly before 6 p.m. caused first responders to flood the area around the bridge that connects downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

Officers spread out on both banks and encouraged the man to swim to shore. From the Grand Forks bank, Benson told him, "Keep going to that side!" referring to the Minnesota bank, which was closer. "There's another officer on the other side that can help you out!"

As the man neared the East Grand Forks side, an officer on that bank called to him, "Come over here and talk to me."

On two occasions, the man swam close to the Minnesota shore about 150 yards downstream from the bridge. He eventually grabbed a line from one of two rescue boats that had motored to the scene.

Officers helped the man, wearing a dark T-shirt and dark shorts, up the steep bank. He was identified as Anthony Lee Eychaner, according to East Grand Forks Police Sgt. Mike Swang.

Bicyclists and joggers had paused on the Greenway and dozens of others had gathered along the banks to watch the rescue unfold.

Eychaner was sobbing after being pulled from the river. He was overheard telling officers he had been drinking alcohol and that it makes him depressed. He asked officers, "Why can't you just let a guy die?"

Swang said an ambulance took Eychaner to Altru Hospital for a mental-health evaluation. He was listed in stable condition later that night, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Authorities did not confirm if Eychaner was attempting suicide by jumping into the water.

Before Eychaner leapt, Benson said, Grand Forks police had received reports that a man had lain down on South Third Street downtown. Another passerby later told police the man was walking toward the bridge, Benson said.

"It's a situation where we're down here to speak to someone to try to get them to stop being a nuisance, and obviously, it escalated from there," Grand Forks Police Sgt. Derik Zimmel said.

Although both cities outlaw swimming in the river, neither police department has immediate plans to seek charges against Eychaner.

"It's certainly something we're going to consider given the amount of resources that needed to be deployed to bring this person to safety, but it's not our primary concern at this point," Zimmel said, adding that Eychaner's welfare was the most important issue for his department Wednesday evening.

Andy Legg, 21, and Ryan Wilkie, 24, said they were catfishing from the North Dakota bank when they heard Eychaner yell and looked to see him at the center of the bridge.

"I called the cops and as soon as the cops answered -- boom -- he went in," Legg said.

By the time the Herald arrived on the scene, Eychaner was treading water near the old railroad bridge pier about 75 yards north of the bridge. He was coughing and yelling, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

At one point he shouted, "Leave me alone goddamit! Just let me go!"

Legg said he heard Eychaner say, "I want to die."

"Hopefully, he gets the right help," Wilkie said.

Herald staff writer Steve Lee contributed to this report.

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