It was a situation that had the potential to turn deadly.

A man was standing atop the Oliver Bridge, refusing to leave.

The suspect pulled out a machete when confronted by a Canadian National Railroad police officer. The 33-year-old then pointed the weapon in the direction of the officer and yelled, "Why don't you pull your gun and kill me?"

The officer called Duluth police for help removing the 33-year-old man, who apparently was experiencing a mental health crisis.

It was a case - like so many others throughout the country - that Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said could have ended with violence and controversy.

Instead, police hit the man with a "less-lethal" sponge round - a tool that was rolled out to patrol officers just two months ago. The suspect was arrested without further incident or injury.

"This really captures the idea of why we got into this," Tusken told the News Tribune. "It's a life-saving tool."

The chief said the late August incident marked the first time patrol units deployed the technology since crews were first equipped in late June.

The Duluth Police Department this spring spent about $8,000 for six less-lethal launchers, ammunition and training. Officials touted it as a worthwhile investment to bridge the gap between a Taser and a firearm.

The launchers fire a 40-mm sponge round at a speed of 325 feet per second. The sponges are designed to incapacitate the target without penetrating the skin or causing serious injury.

"It could've ended very badly," Tusken said of the recent incident. "This is a good illustration of why a tool like this is invaluable."

According to court documents, the incident started at about 3 p.m. Aug. 31 when a Canadian National Railroad police officer called 911 to report that a man was trespassing on the top deck of the two-level bridge.

CN crews have been completing a major maintenance project throughout the summer on the bridge, which carries vehicle and rail traffic between the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood and Wisconsin.

By the time Duluth police arrived, the man, identified as 33-year-old David James Konkel, had fled into the woods nearby.

Officers made the decision to deploy the less-lethal weapon. A first shot hit Konkel in the lower leg. A second shot missed, but he surrendered shortly thereafter.

With assistance from the Superior Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Konkel was taken into custody.

Authorities said he had in his possession a backpack several large knives and multiple rounds of shotgun ammunition.

"As the officers were attempting to safely apprehend the defendant, he told law enforcement this was going to be the longest day of their lives and that they were going to earn their money that day," the criminal complaint states.

Konkel was arraigned in State District Court earlier this month on a felony charge of making threats of violence. Sixth Judicial District Judge Jill Eichenwald ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation before the case proceeds.

Police officials earlier this summer spoke of the less-lethal tool's potential to save lives in cases involving mental health issues.

While not available in every situation, officials said the tools have the greatest use for suspects armed with knives or clubs. The launchers are most effective at a distance of 10-75 feet, providing far greater range and reliability than a Taser.

Lt. Bob Shene, who led the department's rollout of the launchers, noted in an interview this summer that a high percentage of officer-involved shootings involve people with mental illness.

"That's been a hot thing for police departments across the country," he said at the time. "Why are we killing people who are having mental health issues? Isn't there something we can do so we don't have to? This gives us that opportunity."