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Witness: Bystanders to Bridge Death Were Too Scared to Intervene

August 26, 1995 GMT

DETROIT (AP) _ A man who beat a woman after a traffic accident tried to sell her to onlookers on a bridge, saying ``she has to pay for my car,″ a witness revealed Friday.

Harvey Mayberry, a 40-year-old city bus driver, told The Associated Press that a few people cheered the deadly attack, but most were appalled and too terrified to get between the victim and her enraged attacker.

``It’s not that people didn’t want to help. We were in a position where we could not help,″ he said.

Deletha Word, 33, drowned in the predawn hours on Aug. 19 after she apparently jumped from the Belle Isle bridge into the Detroit River. Martell Welch, 19, was charged with second-degree murder. Police say the attack followed a minor traffic accident.

Mayberry had been driving over the bridge with a woman when they came upon the crowd in the middle of the road. About 15 to 20 people watched in horror as a man slugged, kicked and choked Word, who was wearing only black g-string panties, Mayberry said.

``He had taken her head and rammed it up against the hood of the car,″ Mayberry recalled. Word was bleeding from the mouth and nose and was heavily bruised, he said.

At the same time, three men who appeared to be friends of the attacker were vandalizing Word’s car, kicking dents in the side and breaking the windows, he said.

The stocky attacker then grabbed Word by the waist, lifted her off the ground and carried her into the middle of the crowd and offered her for sale, Mayberry said. Police said Word lost her clothes when Welch pulled her from her car.

``He asked if `anybody wanted to buy some of this bitch, because she has to pay for my car.′ A couple little smart-ass kids said, `I’ve got $10,′ and things like that,″ Mayberry said.

The man then threw the woman to the pavement, beat her some more and dragged her toward the edge of the bridge, Mayberry said. ``He said, `I ought to throw you over the bridge.‴

Some in the crowd were yelling, ``Don’t let him throw her over the bridge,″ he said. One of the man’s companions then walked over to Word and tried to comfort her; she got up and started walking away.

The attacker then went after the woman with a car jack and said ```I’m going to kill you,‴ Mayberry recalled. Word walked to the edge of the bridge and jumped just as the attacker was about to hit her with the jack, he said.

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Mayberry said two men in the crowd jumped into the water to rescue Word, but that she apparently thought they also meant harm.

``She went from a smooth swim to a fast, panicky swim.″ She turned toward the deeper water and eventually went under, he said.

Her body was found several hours later. Mayberry said Word didn’t say anything during the attack.

Only a few teen-agers in the crowd cheered the attack, while most of the onlookers were shocked, he said. ``My friend was hysterical. It wasn’t like nobody cared.″

The bystanders were intimidated by the attacker, as well as the three men with him, Mayberry said. ``I wanted to help her, but I was simply afraid.″

Richard Padzieski, an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, said that police had interviewed Mayberry. Padzieski said Mayberry’s allegation that the suspect offered Word to the crowd was new.

Police Cmdr. Gerald Stewart also said that no other witnesses have reported the attacker used a jack. Other witnesses have said the attacker had a tire iron, but had put it away before Word jumped, Stewart said.