Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jumping off the Coronado Bridge

UPDATE 1/5/08: Go here for my piece on the New Year's jumper who took a police dog with him.

This is a very grim subject, but it's sort of interesting, so I'm going to roll with it...

Two people tried to jump off the Coronado Bridge in the last six days. The first one made it into the Union-Tribune, which is rare. Apparently a man stole a car in Las Vegas, then drove to San Diego, went to the top of the bridge, got out, and tried to jump off. A motorist stopped and apparently talked him out of it. He continued to Coronado where he was met by the police, then he tried to run from them. The news article is here.

The second jumper was Friday night. One of our drivers put the call on the radio: "The ramp onto Coronado bridge from Caesar Chavez Parkway is closed because of a jumper." About 20 minutes later, another of our drivers came to the hotel where I was staging. He said he was driving across the bridge when he saw a man running from several cops, who were also on foot. As our driver went by the man, he jumped up on the railing. Our driver didn't see him jump, and we never heard what happened. The ramp was opened within 20 minutes.

Background on the bridge and jumpers

The Coronado Bridge is 2.2 miles long and 200 feet above the bay. It connects San Diego with Coronado, an island (technically a peninsula) that protects the harbor from the Pacific Ocean. The bridge is huge, dominating the skyline. It makes a bend of almost 90 degrees, and it's basically a hill, with a fairly steep run to the top, then back down. The Golden Gate Bridge, by comparison, is 220 feet high (road surface) and is about 1.5 miles long.

I have heard a lot of jumper notices on the radio in my two years of driving cab -- probably six per year, with my first year (April 2005-2006) being much busier than the second. It seems like I heard about one per month for that first year. I always pause and hope the person changes his mind. I've had customers in the car when a call came through, and they become somber, too. Usually the message is short and simple: "There's a jumper on the Coronado Bridge," sometimes followed by a closure notice. CHP often closes down all travel, both directions, for as long as four hours.

Incidentally, any rides we get to Coronado during that time are much more lucrative, as we have to take the 5 freeway all the way down to Imperial Beach, then drive up the Silver Strand into Coronado. A 10 minute drive from downtown becomes 30 minutes. More, if IB traffic is bad. I once picked up people in San Diego going home to Coronado who said they missed the opening of a Padres (baseball) game because of a jumper.

Bridge in background on a hazy day; these
shots are from Harbor Island, with downtown
to the left, and Coronado to the right


The bridge has no walkway, unlike the Golden Gate, and there's no shoulder. So, it's assumed that anybody walking on the bridge is planning on committing suicide. There's no net, and the cement guard rail is only about three feet high. Our drivers always call 911 when we see somebody walking.

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From downtown


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Driving on the bridge

Personally, I've seen four people walking in two years, and I called 911 each time. The first three times the operator said they already had the info. The fourth time, I was asked for the exact location (I was the first to call), which side of the bridge, and which direction of travel. They didn't ask for a description, but I remember him well: he was wearing blue jeans, a blue jacket, and a blue baseball cap. He was small in size, maybe 5'6" to 5'10", medium build. I couldn't see what race he might have been. He was walking slowly, looking straight ahead, near the top of the bridge. Traffic was heavy, and I didn't stop, and didn't see what he might or might not have done. The bridge was closed in both directions for several hours that time. I checked the Union-Tribune for the next couple of days, but I never saw a story about it. I'd like to think the police talked him out of it.

I found something interesting: apparently several people have survived the jump. The San Diego Reader has the story.

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