SOLOMON’S LEAP ZONE: BUILD A NEW LOW BRIDGE OVER PATUXENT?
PROBLEM SOLVED: St. Mary’s Commissioners ponder solutions, including a net under the bridge or more fencing to stop jumpers
NEWS AND COMMENTARY
By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
SEVEN GABLES, MD. – The St. Mary’s County Commissioners are the ultimate in sober and careful deliberation among the public bodies that operate in the twenty-four jurisdictions of Maryland.
At their February 8, 2022, board of commissioners meeting, the assembled leaders pontificated on the need to do something about the increasing popularity of the bridge for those desperate to fling themselves off of the bridge to end their lives. The commissioners noted that a Natural Resources Police Officer recently prevented two persons from ending their lives by jumping from the 120-foot-high span crossing between St. Mary’s and Calvert County over the Patuxent River. Somehow, the commissioners didn’t come up with the idea to station a team of officers to guard the bridge twenty-four hours a day to prevent those bent on self-destruction but give them time. Del. Brian Crosby (D. St. Mary’s) recently said he favored a netting under the bridge to capture falling persons.
Suicide prevention from Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge, combined with failing status needing bridge to be replaced; new bridge should be lowered to twenty feet off the surface with a drawbridge installed. Commissioner John E. O’Connor said that stopping jumpers at this bridge just might cause them to go to another bridge, but he failed to provide a list of alternative bridges.
When suicide barriers were installed at the Duke Ellington Bridge in Washington, D.C. quelled the race to end despair by self-elimination, the acts of jumping didn’t pick up at other bridges, proving that if the romantic notion of an ending with cool jazz could not be obtained, then those who are death prone just said the hell with it and kept on living.
HE KILLED HIMSELF FOR LOVE
The Aqueduct Bridge over the Potomac River has been a jumper favorite over the years. In 1908, Giuseppe Crio hurled himself into the river due to his rejection of his love by Josephine Castalda, known as the Belle of Little Italy, according to reports published on September 5, 1908.
In his suicide note that he left to his mother, her, and community members, he made his apologies. A key in his pocket led to the identification of the man who had languished unknown in the Washington City morgue for two days.
The key led to his rented room and the notes, translated into English by Washington Police Detective Oriono. In his letter, he said to his unrequited love, “You like me well with my money, you told me one word. You broke my heart. You can say that I was always a gentleman, unfortunate.” Crio left some of his money to the girl and his mother and instructed the Italian Consul to take charge of his body.
BRAVE OFFICERS AND AN ELECTRICIAN SAVE A LOVELORN CLERK FROM JUMPING
Virgilio Perez, 23, of Puerto Rico, was perched on a windswept cable of the George Washington Bridge on November 14, 1953, high above the Hudson River. According to the Baltimore Sun, his will to die was averted by three police officers an electrician. Perez told the police that his sweetheart’s family refused to let him speak to her on the phone, so he decided to kill himself. When he climbed a lamp post in the center of the span, a motorist reported him to the police. Three officers arrived and found him where he had climbed the three-foot diameter pole, and they and the electrician climbed up after him.
Perez had been determined to make it 200 feet up over the bridge, but he told the cops he was very cold and changed his mind. “It was too windy,” he said, “and it was too cold anyway.”
Searchlights blinded Perez and prevented him from seeing his approaching rescuers. They grabbed him, secured him with a rope, lowered him to the bridge deck where he was wrapped in a straitjacket, and rushed to Bellevue Hospital for observation.
INTENT ON JUMPING FROM BAY BRIDGE; MAN GOT LOST IN TOWER
The Coast Guard and Maryland Natural resources police had fished a body out of the Chesapeake Bay in 1983, near the main supports of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, when they noticed a beleaguered man slumped on the concrete ledge at the bottom of one of those supports, reported Baltimore Sun writer Ann LoLordo.
The man, a chicken plant worker in Delaware who was despondent about his third wife, stopped his car on top of the bridge, climbed over the side onto a catwalk, and spotted a hatch on a hollow shaft. The man entered the shaft and climbed a metal ladder in an effort to find a superior perch from which to take a fatal dive.
As he climbed, he later told police he was scared and started back down but, in the dark, missed his entry hatch and kept going. His high adventure began just before midnight, and when he came out at the base of the bridge tower, it was morning. Police said that his condition was haggard and as if he were a wet noodle.
A suicide note was written by him on a yellow pad and left in his vehicle. Following his rescue, his family took him to a hospital in Delaware. A police spokesman said that most of the jumpers don’t get scared and live to talk about it.
REPORTER WHO PENNED ACCOUNTS OF BRIDGE JUMPERS APPARENTLY JUMPED
In July of 1980, Fran Krzywicki, a reporter for the Newport News Daily Press, parked her car on top of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, leaving a bloody towel in her car and on the floorboard, indicating a possible failed suicide, and vanished.
Krzywicki reported on jumpers from the Bay Bridge when she worked at an Annapolis newspaper and had made a prior attempt to take her life by cutting her wrists. Her mother told the Baltimore Sun that her daughter was dissatisfied with her life and her work as a reporter when she attempted to kill herself unsuccessfully before seeking psychiatric treatment. When she worked at the Annapolis Evening Capital, she wrote a story in 1979 of female jumpers who perceived the act as being swallowed into a watery grave.
DISTRICT CONSTRUCTED IRON FENCES ON TWO BRIDGES THAT SPAN ROCK CREEK PARK
The Washington Post reported in 1985 that the District of Columbia was urged by the parents of Anne Read, a graduate of George Washington University, to build a picket fence made of iron on the sides of the bridge to prevent anyone from doing what their daughter did. Read stood on the Calvert Street Bridge, known as the Duke Ellington Bridge, for about an hour as she smoked cigarettes before plunging to her death 125 feet to the ground in Rock Creek Park. The agreement with the District also installed iron fences to the William Howard Taft Bridge, which carries Connecticut Avenue over Rock Creek. The report noted that there had been 33 people who jumped from the Duke Ellington Bridge in the previous seven years.
The Post article revealed that there wasn’t racial equity in the ranks of the jumpers as the crowd that was attracted was far more white in the majority-black city. Between 1978 and 1984, 15 of the suicide cases were white men, 13 were white women, three were black men, and two were black women, most of them in the twenties and thirties.
The Post reported that 12 persons committed suicide by jumping in front of trains in the first nine years of Metro’s operations.
Benjamin H. Read and his wife, Anne’s advocacy, crystalized the focus of the attention to the tragic attraction of the Duke Ellington Bridge on officials who said that they were unaware of the fatal attraction of the leap zone to those in mental distress. Read was undersecretary of State during the Jimmy Carter Administration.
Read was quoted in the Post as saying: “bridge jumping is the one form of suicide that requires no preparation – no rope, no gun, no pills. Young people particularly seem prone to bridge-jumping because they often haven’t had the life experience to know there is a tomorrow.
After construction on the bridge began, D.C. City Councilman Frank Smith and Mayor Marion Barry, the famous crack-smoking politician, halted the project when Smith said he didn’t realize the fence would be as high as the nearly eight feet. The project was resumed and completed.
A 1990 article in the Post showed that the controversial fences were removed due to a reconstruction of the bridge’s decking.
Debate over adding hotline phones as being cheaper raged on in the District as others said the cost of putting fences on all of the more than a dozen District bridges would be prohibitive. The battle by residents to remove the barriers still didn’t result in the fences being scrapped, but an effort to fence jumpers from the edge of life on the Taft Bridge ended with simply emergency phones being installed.
“Duke Ellington Bridge (Calvert Street Bridge),” D.C. Historic Sites,
GOLDEN GATE IS A PREEMINENT DESTINATION FOR JUMPERS
A study of 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge from 1937 to 1971 found that only 35 committed suicide following the intervention. Most of those were within six months of their first attempt, and only a few from that bridge.
One official told the Post that the study showed that time does heal wounds, and it is not true that a suicidal person will find another way to take their life.
MARYLAND INSTALLS CAMERAS ON MAJOR BRIDGES TO SPOT JUMPERS
The Maryland Transportation Authority installed cameras to target and intervene with those trying to jump off a bridge the MTA operated in 1995.
In 2007, a rash of suicides from the Governor Harry Nice Bridge over the Potomac River and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge over the Patuxent spawned a flurry of news articles and interviews with officials, including then Delegate Anthony O’Donnell (R. Calvert).
Suicide hotline promotes a popular leap zone in Maryland
Ironically, the Maryland Suicide Center page has a logo at the top that includes a sunset photo of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The Life Crisis Center hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge. Anyone of any age can call the hotline at any time.
The hotline receives calls about a variety of concerns, which may include:
- depression, sadness, or loneliness
- life stressors
- financial struggles
- relationship problems
- grief and bereavement
- physical or sexual abuse
- thoughts of suicide
The Life Crisis Center hotline answers crisis and emotional support calls through the Maryland Crisis Hotline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as information and referral calls through the Maryland 2-1-1 system. In addition, the hotline answers calls for the three counties of the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland as the local crisis center, rape/sexual assault program, and domestic violence program. The Life Crisis Center hotline was re-certified in 2015 by the American Association of Suicidology.