As of May, 2015, the City Council responsible for the Management of the Coronado Bridge in San Diego gave a unanimous vote to study the type of suicide prevention barrier that would be the most effective.
The Coronado Bridge Suicide Prevention Collaborative has initiated a project similar to that of San Francisco, for a barrier costing $75 million, consisting of a -20 foot wide steel net.
The numbers of completed suicides in San Diego in recent months appear to differ. Some local articles list 131 in the past 15 years. Other sources, drawing from such resources as the Coronado Police Department and the Medical Examiner and the California Highway Patrol report more than 150 people have jumped off the bridge to their deaths since the year 2000.
Even more devastating is the fact that since January 2015, police have responded to 41 additional attempts.
Homelessness in San Diego County – A Factor, January 2015
According to the San Diego Union Tribune April 2015 article, the number of people living on the street or in shelters in San Diego County increased by 2.8 percent from last year, according to results of an annual count of homeless people. (This is an estimate.)
Volunteers in the annual count found 4,156 people living on the streets, a 4.3 increase from last year. Another 4,586 people were in shelters, a 1.4 percent increase from last year.
Of the 4,156 people on the street, about 70 percent were males and 15.4 percent were veterans. Almost 28 percent were believed to have either an addiction or severe mental illness, and more than 70 percent said they had been homeless a year or longer.
The WeAllCount Campaign, also known as the Point-in-Time Count, was held in the early morning hours on Jan. 23, 2015. That’s over 8,700 homeless people!
Suicide Then and Now:
As reported since my previous blog in July, 2011, San Diego’s Coronado Bridge and the City’s Recent Suicides, the signs along the bridge giving suicide prevention counseling information haven’t been working.
CalTrans, the company who oversees the maintenance of the Coronado Bridge seems to have taken their former callous attitude and snuffed it, in favor of a more compassionate stance to at least do a feasibility study.
According to public information officer, Edward Cartagena of CalTrans, many variables have to be considered. What works in San Francisco, may not work in Coronado. Although they have added technology in the event of earthquakes, added weight and wind currents need to be considered (in addition to cost).
Dr. Jennifer Lewis on the faculty of the Department of Social Work at the University of California – San Diego, wants a sense of urgency to be placed on this issue. In reality, a feasibility study can range from six months to two years to complete. She is in favor of a barrier, saying “other places where they’ve gone in, they’ve been 100 percent effective.”
The Coronado Bridge Suicide Prevention Collaborative is serving as the watchdog. From recent posts on their Facebook page, it appears they are doing what they can to build awareness and prevention. https://vimeo.com/132130635.
Witnessing of a Suicide
Dr. Lewis wants to protect the potential further witnessing of suicide that can be as traumatic as those who have lost a loved one. Not much is found on internet resources about this aspect.
An anonymous writer wrote of this experience in 2008 – A haunting experience to witness the suicide of a stranger as a “good Samaritan.” (Some editing)
“Last week I was driving over the San Francisco Bay Bridge and watched someone get up on the railing and jump off. I found out later that he died and was picked up by the authorities.
I did all the things I was supposed to do – called 911, checked in with the authorities, let myself cry before driving a vehicle etc. I’ve been in touch with friends who are therapists and gotten plenty of hugs and loving people to support me.
The image of him getting up on the side of the bridge and the way his body looked as he jumped haunts me. I know it’s probably too early to expect that it go away. I’m just struggling with what meaning to find in it all and how to find people who won’t judge what I am experiencing.
I’ve looked for support sites online and have found a number of places that are for friends or family who have had someone they love commit suicide. However, I don’t even know this guy’s name. I wouldn’t want to be intruding on what is obviously a very sensitive time for someone who has a friend or family member die.
This situation is challenging for me because I don’t know much about what happened, or why it happened. There is not much more information I can learn. I also have found that while some family or friends have tried to be helpful. They have had a tough time not assigning blame, being judgmental or putting their own issues about death and suicide onto my plate. As a result of their attitudes, this experience feels even more confusing and alienating.”
I sincerely hope and pray that this person sought professional counselling and was able to focus in the land of the living.
Putting the Pieces Together – One Woman’s Story
As reported in an San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, (some portions edited) investigators with the Coroner’s Office are a special breed of detectives. Those who are elderly jumpers are few and far between.
Such was the case of Lois Anne Houston. She was a heavy-set 75-year-old, who jumped from the San Francisco Bridge and apparently hit the water face first. The impact opened up her face from nose to chin, leaving a gaping red wound and a grotesque death mask.
The investigator, Darryl Harris stated, “There must be something pretty outrageous in her life that made her do this.” You just don’t see this occur – hardly ever.” That would turn out to be true.
Lois chose a cloudy Sunday morning, April 24, in which to end her life. She drove north onto the bridge, in her blue Ford Taurus, put the emergency flashers on and climbed over the divider to the pedestrian walkway. A California Highway Patrol officer spotted the car and went to investigate. He saw that the vehicle was empty and then saw Houston on top of the bridge railing, according to the report.
Inspector Harris found Houston’s body in the familiar spot, on the long tray under a tarp on the dock. He pulled back the tarp and went through the routine of checking the body and looking for identification including her purse.
It was tough to see Houston on the pallet. The impact had shredded her clothing. Her black pants and floral print blouse were in tatters, barely clinging to her arms and legs. Her panties and bra were in pieces.
There was bruising everywhere, on her thighs, chest, back and face. She wore a gold watch and a ring on her finger. She wore black socks and was missing one shoe.
Her wallet had photos, but it was difficult to know with certainty, which was portrayed in the photos.
Lois‘ sister from Florida returned a call received from a police officer, Her sister stated that Lois “had no family out west.” She had lived with another woman for 40 years, and her partner had died last summer.
In the interim, Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Lois recently had been told that her cancer had spread to her liver. (I think Lois, still actively grieving, just wanted to be with her partner all the more after receiving the news and decided to “skip a prolonged, painful death“ as her choice.”)
The pathologist reported clinically and coldly that Lois “died of multiple blunt-force injuries, due to a “jump from height.”
Returning to the Trenches and the Effectiveness of Suicide Barriers
Whether stated in 2005, or 2015, Inspectors with the Coroner’s office have their own opinions.
At the time in 2005, Darryl Harris said “he didn’t have an opinion” on whether the bridge should have a suicide barrier. However, most of the jumpers he investigated had significant histories of suicidal behavior. Harris’ comment,“I don’t know that a barrier would do much good, I think people will find other ways to kill themselves, and it might mean they do something that puts someone else in danger, like jumping off a building or intentionally driving their car into traffic.” THAT, is an opinion.
We cannot say whether a barrier will help in all instances. But, it may be a deterrent in some cases, as nothing is foolproof. As a friend likes to say… “Let’s get busy” (when it comes to suicide prevention).
1) National Suicide Prevention Hotline Call 24/7 1-800-273-8255
2)Hotlines listed by State – http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html
3) 917-65-1889- http://sisfi.org/suicidetours.html