August 23, 1995 in Nation/World

Police Say Onlookers Didn’t Cheer Assault Man Pleads Innocent In Attack On Driver Who Leapt Off Bridge

Associated Press

A 19-year-old man pleaded innocent to murder Tuesday in the death of a woman who police said jumped off a bridge to escape an attack. Investigators meanwhile backed off their original story that onlookers cheered the assault.

Deletha Word, 33, apparently was not pushed but leapt off the Belle Isle bridge on her own, and some witnesses even said her attacker told her not to jump, police Cmdr. Gerald Stewart said.

“We know for a fact that she was not pushed over,” Stewart said Tuesday. “She was probably trying to escape.”

There is no evidence to support initial police reports that a crowd cheered as Word was attacked early Saturday, Stewart said.

The earlier reports were probably “just an exaggeration of some of the people out there,” he said.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Richard Padzieski also said the early reports were wrong.

“There’s nothing to indicate there was a mob cheering on the attackers,” Padzieski said. “It was not the mood of the group.”

Stewart said the story may have stemmed from people honking their horns at the backed-up traffic, or yelling in horror when they saw the woman jump.

“When you know what really happened,” he said, “it’s bad, but not like it’s been portrayed.”

Bail for Martell Welch was set at $250,000 for a charge of second-degree murder, punishable by up to life in prison.

Witnesses told police that Word’s car hit Welch’s car and she drove away, but was blocked on the bridge by heavy traffic.

When Welch’s car approached Word’s, she reversed and hit him again. Welch got out and attacked Word’s car with a crowbar, Stewart said. He said Welch then pulled her from the car, ripping her clothing, and hit her with his fists.

Stewart said Welch chased Word, carrying his crowbar, and she jumped into the river. Her body was found miles downstream.

Two other men who had been held for questioning were released late Tuesday.

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