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suicide jumper articles

jumper media mentions, 1959 - 1999.
updated: 07.25.15
these articles are also found within the given year's jumper pages.

links could be broken at any time. (our comments follow)
09.03.99: full article
07.17.99: Bridge phones offer a new lifeline
07.17.99,, Solar-powered phones have been installed on the Skyway to offer direct help for those contemplating suicide.By LINDA GIBSON
The next time someone with suicide in mind stops at the crest of the Sunshine Skyway bridge, they will find a red box with a solar-powered phone inside.
All they have to do is pick up the handset and push the red button, and a specially trained counselor from the Crisis Center of Hillsborough County will answer.
"The purpose of the phones is for the crisis center to convince them there is another way out," said Sgt. Harold Winsett, who heads the crisis negotiating team of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "This gives them another option."
The Skyway is the third-deadliest bridge in the country for suicides, said Crisis Center president Jerry Vazquez. Now it is the only bridge in the country with emergency phones connected to crisis counselors.
The Golden Gate Bridge, No. 1 on the suicide list, installed emergency phones, but they ring to the bridge authority. The Coronado Bridge in San Diego, No. 2, has no crisis phones.
Since 1996, 26 people have died after jumping off the Skyway. Most jump from the crest, 197 feet above Tampa Bay. By the time they hit the water 3.5 seconds later, their bodies are falling at 75 mph.
Michael Yakes of Gulfport, whose sister Linda Blankenship jumped from the bridge in 1997, welcomes the new phones but worries they won't stop anyone.
"There were motorist aid phones already at the bridge," he said. "A person could have picked those phones up."
Vazquez said the phones most likely will help the person who has some doubt about whether to jump.
"We hope it makes a difference," Vazquez said. "We can only be successful if a person is in a moment of ambivalence."
The Crisis Center has been working for five years to get the phones in place, Vazquez said. Not even the assistance of state Sen. John Grant, R-Tampa, broke through bureaucratic inertia.
But shortly after the first of the year, Grant got a call from newly elected Gov. Jeb Bush. How are those phones on the bridge coming? he asked Grant. They're not, Grant said.
"All of a sudden I began to get tremendous cooperation," Grant said, including a call from the Florida Department of Transportation.
Bush had toured the Crisis Center in March 1998 as Grant's guest and became acquainted with the phone project. The phones are part of an effort to make the bridge less attractive to people contemplating suicide. The other part of that effort, a barrier or net underneath the bridge, is being studied.
With the help of GTE, the Crisis Center installed six phones on the Skyway, three on the north side of the bridge and three on the south side. Police reports showed that some people chose to jump from the concrete supports holding up the cables just before or after the crest, so four phones were placed in those locations.
The other two are at the crest.
Although the phones work, the entire system isn't fully operational. Each phone has caller-ID capability that will allow counselors to determine exactly where the caller is on the bridge. Right now, however, a bug in the system is interfering with that capability.
Blue signs above the phones read "Crisis Center."
Three telephones at the Crisis Center's hotline office are connected to the bridge phones. While one counselor answers the call, another will notify the Florida Highway Patrol and give them the person's location on the bridge.
The patrol will then call the crisis negotiating team at the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, which is responsible for the bridge because the shipping channel is part of Hillsborough County.
The phones were in place when 40-year-old Daniel J. LaVallie of St. Petersburg jumped to his death. He did not try to use them. The signs had not been installed then.

The Sunshine Skyway is now the only bridge in the country with emergency phones connected to crisis counselors. [Times photo: Pam Royal]
Michael Yakes' sister jumped from the bridge in 1997. He welcomes the phones but thinks that nets would do a better job of deterrence.
[Times photo: Pam Royal]

'google' censors phone signs.
05.09.99: On Florida Bridge, Troopers Are Also Suicide Counselors.
05.09.99, new york times, On Florida Bridge, Troopers Are Also Suicide Counselors
At the crest of the massive Sunshine Skyway Bridge, 200 feet above the jade-colored waters of Tampa Bay, Gary Schluter and James C. Covert of the State Highway Patrol have to persuade people poised on the edge of their own destruction to step back slowly, and live.
It happens again and again to these men and others who patrol the bridge on Florida's west coast. They regularly find a car pulled to the side of the span and see a woman or man sitting or standing on the concrete railing, watching one last sunset, working up the nerve.
Then, their nerves humming, the patrolmen try to convince complete strangers that lost loves, lost jobs or feelings of lost youth are not reason enough to step off into thin air.
''People look at that water and think it's very serene, an easy way to die,'' said Mr. Schluter, a 45-year-old corporal who, in two years, has been credited with saving four lives on the Sunshine Skyway.
''It's more like hitting concrete,'' said Mr. Schluter, who has seen the number of suicides, and attempts, climb steadily over the last few years. Like Mr. Covert, a 28-year-old trooper who talked down three people in four days in May 1998, Mr. Schluter has little or no formal training in suicide prevention, but they find themselves being increasingly called upon to save people who want to kill themselves at the bridge.
Though the Sunshine Skyway is no Golden Gate Bridge, where more than 1,200 people have killed themselves in the six decades since the bridge was built, a rising number of suicides here has officials concerned. At the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush, state transportation officials are expected to build a barrier -- perhaps even a net to catch jumpers -- and install telephones that would quickly connect counselors to people considering suicide at the Sunshine Skyway.
In 1996, six people jumped to their deaths from the bridge, and five people were persuaded not to jump, according to police reports. Eight people killed themselves there in 1997, but 11 others were saved after being talked down by state troopers, sheriff's deputies and counselors.
In 1998, Mr. Schluter said, 12 people jumped to their deaths from the bridge, and about the same number were persuaded to reconsider. In the first four months of 1999, five people died in suicides on the bridge, according to police reports, and at least four were saved, troopers said.
The bridge is more than four miles long, and the troopers have often been the only rescuers who make it in time to intervene. They must frantically get to know someone in a few tense minutes, understand why the person has given up on life and search that stranger's past for a reason, any reason, to go on living.
''If they have children, I try to get them to think about their children,'' said Mr. Covert, who has saved four people.
It is a drama that takes place almost in the clouds, so high that the sailboats that pass underneath look like toys in a bathtub, and most often it is just the two of them, the desperate stranger and a new best friend.
The bridge, as much a fixture on west Florida postcards as alligators and orange groves, is a tourist destination in itself. But it was born in tragedy.
On May 9, 1980, the freighter Summit Venture slammed into one of the pylons of the old bridge, also named the Sunshine Skyway, and knocked a part of its span into the bay. Eight vehicles, including a bus, fell into the water. Thirty-five people were killed.
The state closed that bridge and, over years, built a massive new Skyway, which opened in 1987 with majestic yellow cables that rise from its center span to towering concrete posts. The bridge is also a toll road costing $1.
The ones who jump usually do so before help arrives, leaving their cars and sometimes notes, apologizing, asking somebody to look after a house or feed a cat, the troopers said.
If the troopers get there in time, they must be gentle, though their own hearts are pounding so hard it almost hurts, because if their words are clumsy, if their movements are too forceful, they may crumple what hope the people hold. Here, so high, hope is the next-to-last thing they lose.
Once, when a man on the bridge said he was afraid of going to jail, Mr. Schluter took off his gunbelt and his shirt, to be less threatening.
It all unfolds with the troopers knowing that the despondent, unstable people could reach for them in desperation and, accidentally or not, drag them into the water. The railing is a thin concrete barrier about three and a half feet high.
''It's dangerous for us,'' Mr. Schluter said. So he tries, he said, to stay out of reach.
On New Year's Day, Mr. Schluter found a man sitting on the rail, his legs dangling over the bay.
''That's a long way down,'' Mr. Schluter told him as he walked carefully up to him. The man had tears running down his face.
''If you agree not to jump for 15 minutes,'' he added, ''I will agree not to try and stop you for 15 minutes.'' So they just talked. He found out the man was in debt, that he was despondent over family problems.
They talked for about 40 minutes, calling each other by their first names. But the man seemed hurried by, of all things, backed-up traffic that had been caused by the drama on the span. It was as if he was sorry for causing others an inconvenience.
''He said, 'Gary, I'm really sorry but I really have to go,' and he started inching himself closer and closer,'' to the edge, Mr. Schluter said. Believing he was losing the man, he broke one of his own rules.
He motioned for another officer to inch up close behind his own back, close enough to grab onto him in case the man tried to take him over the wall, then he gently laid a hand on the man's leg. That simple touch, Mr. Schluter said, seemed to break through the bubble of the man's hopelessness.
''That's what I needed,'' he told Mr. Schluter.
He came down off the wall and meekly allowed himself to be handcuffed and taken to nearby St. Anthony's Hospital. Under the law, officers can take someone into custody and deliver the person to a mental hospital if he is a potential danger to himself. Most of the people who attempt suicide on the Sunshine Skyway are held for at least a while under the law, for evaluation.
Mr. Schluter and Mr. Covert do not know of a single person who attempted suicide again on the bridge, or elsewhere. Mr. Schluter gives his business card and beeper number to the people he talks down, in case.
Given a second chance at life, he said, most people use it. In a study of prevented suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, researchers found that would-be jumpers rarely tried again.
The troopers do not think the people they talk down are just trying to get attention.
''I believe that everyone who goes up there has the intention of going through with it,'' Mr. Covert said. One was a woman who had been in an abusive relationship, and one had lost her job. Two others had lost jobs and lovers, and just gave up.
''They feel they've exhausted their options, and this is the last part of their lives they have control of,'' Mr. Covert said. ''I tell them this is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.''
Jumpers tend to die ugly, the troopers said. The fall, less than four seconds, ends in a bone-snapping, organ-rupturing trauma, but some jumpers do not lose consciousness, and drown in agony.
''We retrieve the bodies,'' Mr. Schluter said. ''They are distorted, mangled.''
He cannot imagine the hopelessness that sends them up that steep incline. Sometimes, Mr. Schluter said, people hand a toll booth operator their wallets and say, ''I won't be needing this any more.''
Sometimes, he can prove them wrong.
03.31.99: Bush working to stop Skyway suicides
03.31.99,, Phones linked to a crisis center will soon be installed on the bridge, and a fence or net is being studied. By PETER WALLSTEN
TALLAHASSEE -- Hoping to stop a rising number of suicides, Gov. Jeb Bush wants the state to build a barrier that would block people from jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Bush toured a Hillsborough County crisis center as a candidate last year and took to heart concerns that too many people were jumping off the Skyway to commit suicide.
Now he's pushing state transportation officials to make swift improvements -- cellular phones and perhaps a fence or netting -- to one of the state's most picturesque bridges.
"Hey, I'm governor now," he said Tuesday. "I don't have to wait."
Law enforcement officials and crisis counselors have been worried for years about people jumping off the 12-year-old span, 197 feet above Tampa Bay at its crest.
The number of people who killed themselves by jumping from the Skyway steadily increased in the mid-1990s.
In 1996, there were six. In 1997, eight more people jumped to their deaths. By spring of 1998, the last time numbers were tallied, seven people already had plunged to their deaths.
"It's troubling that people are jumping off that bridge in record numbers," Bush said.
Bush called state Transportation Secretary Tom Barry last week to urge a speedy resolution to the problem.
In a memo to the governor, Barry says the department is moving quickly to study options for a "Skyway safety barrier."
Bush referred to a "netting," though Barry said Tuesday that there are many options. The department's study, to be completed by early May, would consider aesthetics, cost and even the danger from high winds.
"If you have a bridge like the Skyway, when you add something to it that wasn't intended, you do have to make sure you're not creating a problem," Barry said. "There could be noise and vibrations. And if you put something up that nobody can get through, how do you maintain and inspect the underside of the bridge?"
A similar proposal has led to heated debate in California, where there is intense pressure to protect the beauty of the historic Golden Gate Bridge.
More than 1,000 people have jumped to their deaths off the San Francisco bridge in six decades, far more than any other bridge. Public safety patrols monitor the bridge's sidewalks, and crisis phones have been installed.
But Golden Gate officials have struggled for years over the idea of a barrier. A spokeswoman said Monday the bridge's board of directors may be close to finding a barrier they like, but it has not been easy.
"We have not found one that is agreeable from the perspective of visual and aesthetic impact," said Mary Currie, a spokeswoman for the bridge. "We've studied a lot and ended up with a lot of rejections."
In Florida, the DOT has hired the Skyway's original designers to look for a solution.
Gene Figg, president of the Figg Engineering Group of Tallahassee, said Monday that it is too early to say whether he can find a barrier that would retain the beauty of the bridge.
Figg said he is not concerned about obstructing the view, but is relieved that another firm won't be able to tinker with his design.
"At least we can have an opportunity to make it as aesthetic as possible," Figg said. "I think that's a real plus, to have the designer try to handle the situation."
Neither Figg nor Barry could provide a cost estimate for a barrier.
"That would depend on so many factors, how high, how big, how long on the bridge to build it," Figg said.
Bush's directive may have a more immediate result.
The DOT soon will add six red, solar-powered cellular telephones at various points along the span.
The phones will connect users immediately to the Crisis Center of Hillsborough County, where counselors are on duty around the clock. The phones will be located at the crest and at the piers, where suicides often occur.
Bush learned about the suicide problem when he toured the Hillsborough crisis center in March 1998 with state Sen. John Grant, R-Tampa. Center officials told him the phones could help, and the advice stayed with him.
A year later, crisis center officials are hoping the phones get installed quickly.
"At the time a person is going to commit suicide, it's a very permanent solution to a temporary problem," said crisis center spokeswoman Beverly Hanney. "At the moment they're feeling hopeless, so there's always going to be that person who's going to do it no matter what.
"But if we make it more difficult and give them opportunities to talk it out, the chance is that we can prevent it."
05.27.98: 10 times too many, they chose Skyway
05.27.98,, By HOWARD TROXLER
Stephanie Lee Banasiak, 45, rented a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier on Monday afternoon at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
I do not know why she chose a Chevrolet Cavalier, or why she did the things that she did afterward.
At about 7:30 p.m., she was driving south on Interstate 275, toward her home in Bradenton. At the top of the Sunshine Skyway, she pulled her car onto the shoulder and got out.
It is a glorious and scary view. Over your right shoulder you can see St. Petersburg, and the white outline of Tropicana Field. Behind your back, far to the east, if the sky is not too hazy, you can see the skyline of downtown Tampa.
The deck of the bridge shudders menacingly under the weight of passing cars. A steady, strong breeze whips your hair as you stand there under the giant, graceful web of the bridge cables, 200 feet above the water. Look straight down and the tiny whitecaps seem deceptively close; only when you raise your eyes and look around do you realize how high up you are.
The sun was within an hour of setting, and low in the western sky, when Stephanie Lee Banasiak stopped her car, got out, got up on the concrete wall, which is only about 31/2 feet tall, and jumped.
She was the 10th person to die after jumping from the Skyway so far this year, which is not yet half over.
In all of last year, eight people did it.
The year before that, there were six.
I talked Tuesday to some good people at the Crisis Center of Hillsborough County (the center of the bridge, from which most people jump, is in Hillsborough). I asked them if publicity about these deaths encourages copycats.
They said that here is what needs to be publicized:
Anyone who has read or heard about these things happening on the Sunshine Skyway, and who feels desperate enough to follow, should take one more second, one more minute, and dial an easy telephone number first.
The number is 234-1234.
"Suicide is a very permanent solution to a temporary problem," Bev Hanney, a spokeswoman for the crisis center, said sadly Tuesday afternoon.
"They just for the moment feel so hopeless," Hanney said. "That's why it's so important to let this community know that there is a resource. It's free. It's confidential. It's anonymous."
That's 234-1234.
The crisis center is working with GTE to install crisis telephones atop the bridge. There already are 18 telephones along the 4.1-mile span to link motorists to road assistance, but none are exactly in the right spot.
More problematic is whether the Department of Transportation can install a fence or some other sort of barrier to make jumping harder. The waist-high concrete wall is no obstacle.
The department is looking at what others have done to make bridges less accessible. That will be finished in about 60 days. But any remedy is likely to be expensive and complicated -- and not, so far, in any budget.
The Skyway is a bit of an orphan, geographically speaking. It links Pinellas and Manatee counties, but lies in Hillsborough. There are no voters or taxpayers there; no feeling of political responsibility that would spur one mayor or another, one county commission or another, one local legislator or another, to lead the way.
So we wait for studies, while the crisis center works with GTE to at least put a telephone in the right spot, to give those who stop there one more chance.
In the meantime . . .
In the meantime, for those who go to the Skyway, intending to do this final thing, the only "one more chance" will come from themselves.
Please, please make this promise:
Before you go, before you even get in the car, dial this number.
It's 234-1234.
Do it.
05.16.98: Trooper brings people back from edge.
05.16.98,, St. Petersburg, Fla.
He has no training in crisis management.
He has never done any counseling.
But three times in the past four days, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James C. Covert has managed to talk distraught people out of jumping off the Sunshine Skyway bridge.
The 27-year-old former carpenter says humility and the ability to engage each person in conversation went a long way in helping him prevent three potential suicides.
"I just want to get them to talk to me," said Covert, who most recently persuaded a middle-aged man not to jump from the bridge late Thursday. "I assured him I wasn't that brave that I could wrestle somebody on the top of a bridge where I could go over myself."
But Covert's supervisors say the trooper has a special gift. They have recommended he receive a commendation for bravery.
"It takes a special person to do what Covert did and make it go right," says Highway Patrol Lt. Mike Guzman. "That kind of thing can turn on you in a second. . . . He definitely is above the norm in being able to talk to people at a time when the end is near."
Covert says he doesn't understand why so many Tampa Bay residents recently have committed suicide from the Skyway.
Nine people have taken their lives from the bridge already this year. Eight people committed suicide off the bridge in all of last year. The increase in deaths has caused some Tampa Bay residents to call for fences and phone hot lines to be installed along the bridge.
"It seems a little busier," Covert said. "I don't know if the recent publications about people going up there . . . if that's spurring people or encouraging people to go up there. . . . I don't know."
Covert joined the force nearly three years ago. He was raised in Darian, N.Y., and graduated from the State University of New York- Brockport with a degree in criminology.
While a class at the police academy offers instruction in how to handle potential suicides, troopers learn how to defuse crisis situations through on-the-job training, Guzman says.
Normally, Covert is assigned to patrol state highways on the midnight shift out of the Pinellas Park district. He says he does not routinely cover the Skyway, but that changed earlier this week when he was dispatched to the top of the bridge to help a stranded motorist.
As he approached the car, he found an elderly woman standing next to the guardrail, looking off into the distance. Covert says the woman appeared to be in good health. As soon as she started complaining about problems at home, he said, he realized her car was not the problem. She openly told him she was going to jump.
"It sends shivers up your spine," he said. "I wanted to know what they were thinking. . . . I wanted to hear what they had to say and try what I could to remedy it. I tried to create a little bit of a rapport."
Covert says the 15-minute conversation felt as if it lasted five hours. In the end, he persuaded the woman to drive her car to the nearby pier, where the two discussed her problems. The woman was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
Early Tuesday, Covert was pulled off an assignment and sent to help a disabled motorist at the top of the Skyway. When he arrived, he found a middle-aged woman who said she had problems at home.
"The first time it caught me off guard," he says. "The second time, I was hoping it was just a disabled vehicle. A tire change or a tow truck or something like that."
Again, Covert got the woman to drive to the south fishing pier and talk. She later drove home.
On Thursday evening, Covert was patrolling along the bridge when he received his third call. He found a middle-aged man, dressed in a shirt and jeans, standing next to the barrier at the top of the bridge. The man told Covert he was having problems and intended to jump.
"I tried to get him to talk about his kids," says Covert. "I tried to explain to him, (his kids) were young and maybe the kids would blame themselves. That's a heavy burden to put on his children."
The conversation worked. The man was admitted to a hospital.
His bosses were thankful Covert was in the right place to help.
"He's special," Guzman said. "Not everyone can do what he did."
04.13.98: For many, Sunshine Skyway bridge is a dark symbol of sadness and loss
04.13.98,, By CHRISTINA HEADRICK, St. Petersburg Times
On the morning of Dec. 23, Linda Blankenship told her elderly mother she had to run an errand. Then she drove to the Sunshine Skyway and pulled over at the crest of the bridge.
She got out and sat on the railing, her feet dangling over the side, 197 feet from the water.
A few minutes passed. Then, Blankenship pushed off and fell to her death.
She was one of eight people to commit suicide last year from the bridge linking Pinellas and Manatee counties. Already this year there have been seven more, and the increase has led to a call for better safety measures on the bridge to save lives.
The family of 46-year-old Blankenship believes that jumping from the Skyway presented itself as too easy. They wonder whether her death could have been prevented.
Blankenship was divorced and had lived with her mother in Gulfport for three years. Her ex-husband and two college-age children live in Georgia.
A slim, neatly dressed woman in family photos, Blankenship went to therapy and took medication for depression. She volunteered at local charities. She seemed to be doing well.
Perhaps she was upset that she could not give her kids lavish Christmas presents. Perhaps she had driven to the bridge to find her brother, Michael Yakes, who oversees safety at state toll plazas. Maybe she had a spontaneous impulse to jump.
Her family theorizes. They will never know.
But Yakes has asked his employers at the Florida Department of Transportation to study placing a barrier on the bridge's main span to prevent suicides.
"It's hard to accept the death of my sister," said Yakes, who also is the mayor of Gulfport. "But I would feel better if I could prevent this from happening to some other family. I see my mother every day, and this won't go away."
Yakes says he is approaching state officials as the brother of a suicide victim, rather than as a 37-year employee of the DOT or as the seven-year mayor of the small town of Gulfport.
He and another engineer in the Tampa Bay Regional Toll Office, Lee Bohning, estimate it might cost the state about $20,000 to study suicide prevention on the bridge. Bohning supports Yakes as a friend, not as a state employee.
Yakes finds himself among several local suicide prevention groups and law enforcement agencies who are concerned about increasing suicides from the bridge.
Barely four months into the year, seven people have paid their $1 toll and killed themselves, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction for investigating suicides.
Eight people died in 1997, and police persuaded 11 others to leave the edge.
In 1996, six people killed themselves. Two people actually survived the fall. Five people were stopped from jumping.
Most of the victims were white, middle-aged males. Often, they were intoxicated.
"The numbers are going up," said Hillsborough sheriff's Lt. Stan Doss, who oversees suicide prevention efforts.
The most recent suicide from the bridge was on Sunday. William David Chester, a 41-year-old Sarasota truck driver with a history of drug abuse, stopped at the toll plaza about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. He handed a worker his watch, wallet and a note with his address. Then he drove to the top.
"We used to go fishing down at the pier there," said his grandmother, Alvera Walker, with whom he lived. "I think he just started thinking about his problems and felt desperate. Now, nothing can bring him back."
Nationwide, only a small number of suicide victims jump to their deaths. Most suicides -- 60 percent -- involve guns. In 1996, the six Skyway deaths were only 2 percent of some 307 suicides in the Tampa Bay area.
But the latest figures place the Sunshine Skyway among the most notorious American bridges for suicide, says Diane Smith, a spokeswoman for the Crisis Center of Hillsborough County, which runs a suicide hot line. The most infamous is San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, where 45 people were reported to have jumped in 1995, the last year with available statistics.
Jerry Vazquez, president of the Crisis Center in the Tampa Bay area, has formed a task force with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and GTE Corp. to develop the concept of putting phones on the Skyway connected to a suicide hotline.
"If we do nothing, we continue to allow people to commit suicide without the chance of making contact with help," Vazquez said. "We have an obligation to do something."
Ken Hartmann, the DOT's district secretary, says he is willing to listen to such proposals for suicide prevention.
At the top of the Skyway, only a concrete wall roughly 31/2 feet high borders the apex of the main span of the 4.1-mile suspension bridge. The wind can be gusty at the top. The bridge sways slightly.
The plunge to the water lasts about 3.5 seconds. Most people are killed when they hit the water at 75 mph, breaking their necks and rupturing their organs. Some live for minutes before they drown.
Suicide barriers have successfully deterred suicide on other bridges and structures such as as the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower, although no one knows if would-be victims merely choose another way to kill themselves.
The Golden Gate Bridge District is in the final stages of developing a $2.5-million high-tech, metal wire suicide barrier for the landmark, where at least 1,200 people have died. A community coalition believes that a barrier will be more effective than suicide hot lines already on that bridge.
But the idea has been controversial.
"There is a lot of public sentiment about changes in appearance to the bridge," said Mervin Giacomini, district bridge engineer.
The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office has suggested adding suicide barriers on the Skyway, but has been told they would be unattractive and expensive, said Doss, the sheriff's lieutenant.
Among his jobs, Doss oversees six deputies who are trained to talk to people who threaten suicide. He also spent four years negotiating on the Skyway himself, although he is scared of heights. The Florida Highway Patrol, which often arrives on the bridge first, doesn't have such specialists.
Doss supports installing hot line phones.
"Most people have a temporary problem," Doss said. "If they pick up a phone and we can get someone up there to talk to them, there's a 99 percent chance they won't jump."
If people can be prevented from jumping, research shows they may not go on to commit suicide other ways, says Richard Seiden, a psychologist and retired college professor in the Golden Gate coalition.
Seiden studied 515 people who had been hauled off the Golden Gate over 40 years. Only 6 percent committed suicide in the next 20 years of their lives.
Back at the Skyway, it costs about $1,200 each time the U.S. Coast Guard has to recover a body from Tampa Bay. But the cost in pain and suffering of the families who lose loved ones at the bridge is impossible to measure.
Another recent victim was Daniel Israel Johnson, a 21-year-old senior at the University of South Florida. He died April 3. Johnson's body washed ashore at Egmont Key on Tuesday.
Johnson studied management information systems in the College of Business. He had earned good grades as a McNair Scholar, a program designed to help low-income and first-generation students get into graduate school, said Denotra Lee, Johnson's college adviser.
Friends described Johnson as responsible, friendly and articulate, sometimes introverted. He was an officer in groups for African-American business students. He was a hard worker.
"Here is a gentleman who had really surpassed the stereotypes of the low-income black man," Lee said, crying in her office.
"He could have walked out of the university with a $50,000 job. He had leadership, experience and the grades. His stock was very high. I don't know what could have happened. This is really devastating."
Lee is organizing a fund to help pay for Johnson's burial and create a trust fund for his brother.
Johnson is survived by his mother, Lathenia Eve Johnson, and a teenage brother, Jason, both of Tampa. His mother could not be reached for comment.
Johnson was engaged to Felicia Hart, a 20-year-old Hillsborough Community College student. The couple had planned to go to Cancun, Mexico, this weekend for fun, Hart said. Friday evening, Johnson told her he was going to the mall, she said. Then he drove to the Skyway.
"He did this for reasons we'll never know," Hart said. "We have to remember him the way that he was -- not the way that he left us."
01.01.76: full article
06.02.75: full article
09.26.73: full article


our feeling exactly: "makes a public event of his departure".
jumping off the skyway is a public event. everyone gets to know.
08.08.66: full article
07.11.65: full article
02.07.59: full article

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