San Diego’s Coronado Bridge: Suicide Prevention Measures Considered

 

San Diego's Coronado Bridge

San Diego’s Coronado Bridge

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!

Sand Diego's Coronado Bridge

Sand Diego’s Coronado Bridge

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.

Sand Diego's Coronado Bridge

Sand Diego’s Coronado Bridge

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.

Conclusion-

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).

Anti-Suicide Resources:

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

 

References:

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/may/06/coronado-adds-support-to-bridge-suicide-barrier/

http://www.coronadonewsca.com/opinion/you-can-help-with-suicide-prevention/article_d49062f8-033c-11e5-a232-0719767a57f5.html

http://ask.metafilter.com/108103/Witnessing-the-suicide-of-a-stranger

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/LETHAL-BEAUTY-No-easy-death-Suicide-by-bridge-2562269.php

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/apr/23/count-shows-homeless-numbers-up-in-county/

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Homicide or Suicide- Which is it? 

The Tallahatchie Bridge

The Tallahatchie Bridge

Real Life  and then there was Billie Joe MacAllister

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of cases of homicides that initially are “tagged by the toe” and otherwise categorized as suicides.  Why does this occur?  Among the many reasons could be lack of proper experience in crime scene investigation, “politics at the highest levels,” perhaps, a law enforcement officer is the accused and therefore the true manner of death is “buried”, a crime scene is contaminated, lack of resources, expediency to “get things wrapped up” or plain old indifference about the victim for she was “that kind of girl.”

It is difficult to put a number on this, for research data never catches up with real time, so many cases go unreported and are misclassified. In addition, the homicide-suicide can be both when the perpetrator chooses to end it all AND turn the gun on himself!

As a few examples we need only to look at a few Susan Murphy-Milano Journal reports:

Homicide and suicide can be inextricably intertwined in the minds of the law enforcement and the general public at first glance until it gets sorted out with solid proof by experienced professionals.  Often a picture of depression, anxiety, lack of ability to cope is painted,” taking an abuser’s word, without really delving into the behaviors of the deceased prior to the murder.  However, what was our introduction of suicide in the year’s prior to social media and instantaneous news?

Suicide “Ode to Billie Joe” Fact or Folklore

It was a single debut song that “caused a ruckus” in the workplace and record stores everywhere in August 1967. “Ode to Billie Joe” was set against the backdrop of Lyndon Johnson sending 45,000 more troops to Vietnam, “Black Power Advocate” Stokely Carmichael calling for violent revolution in the streets and the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein dying from an overdose of sleeping pill. But, what did Billie Joe McAllister and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge and what did it say about suicide?

Bobby Gentry crossing the Tallahatchie Bridge

Bobby Gentry crossing the Tallahatchie Bridge

According to writer Bill DE Main, “The finished version of “Ode” was over seven minutes long. Capitol edited it down to a more manageable four minutes and stuck it on the flip side of “Mississippi Delta.” But those were the days when DJs still had minds of their own, and as in the stories of so many classic hits, the B-side became the A-side.

Bobbie Gentry stated, “The song is sort of a study in unconscious cruelty. But everybody seems more concerned with what was thrown off the bridge than they are with the thoughtlessness of the people expressed in the song. What was thrown off the bridge really isn’t that important.

Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge—flowers, a ring, even a baby. Anyone who hears the song can think what they want, but the real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.

In its first week of release, “Ode” sold 750,000 copies, knocking “All You Need Is Love” out of the top spot on the Billboard chart. Indeed, all you need is love in this society! As a performer, Bobbie Gentry has seemingly stayed out of the spotlight for over 35 years.

A Fictionalized “Presentation to the Jury”

Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are about to present the facts of what happened in and around the vicinity of Choctaw Ridge, Mississippi, on the day of April 22nd, 1960. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.

We’re just kidding, of course. To this day, there is not a shred of evidence to back up the events of the story told by Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 smash hit “Ode to Billie Joe.” To the amateur sleuths and wanna-be Agatha Christies out there: we’re sincerely sorry to bust your bubble. But that’s the point of Southern Gothic, to make you wonder.

Oh, sure, even though Bobbie Gentry is not her real name (Roberta Lee Streeter holds that honor), really did grow up in Mississippi, and Choctaw Ridge, Carroll County, Tupelo, and the Tallahatchie River are all real places in Mississippi. There are, in fact, seven bridges spanning the Tallahatchie River, at least two of which are within reasonable distance of Choctaw Ridge. It would seem that all you have to do is go dredge the river for the body.

But, see, there isn’t any real body. And, if you insist on taking every word of the song for the Gospel truth, then you also have to allow for the fact that the whole town is talking about the suicide of Billie Joe MacAllister, including the whole family buzzing about it around the dinner table. Presumably, nearly-identical conversations are going on all over town at every family’s dinner table. The preacher, Brother Taylor, knows about it. This is not a cover-up. Everybody was seen in public, and the river would have already been dredged for the body, the body buried, and anything else that was thrown in the river would have been found, too.

People seem to have a hard time accepting the fiction of this song. In a world where novelists routinely fabricate hundreds of pages of made-up characters and events, why is it so hard to accept that a five-verse song is fiction? But then, Southern Gothic is like that sometimes. It’s meant to be compelling and intriguing.

Ode to Billie Joe

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door, “Y’all remember to wipe your feet”
Then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

Papa said to Mama as he passed around the black-eyed peas
“Well, Billie Joe never had a lick o’ sense, pass the biscuits, please
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow”
And Mama said it was a shame about Billie Joe anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billie Joe McAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night
I’ll have another piece of apple pie, you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now you tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Mama said to me, “Child what’s happened to your appetite?
I been cookin’ all mornin’ and you haven’t touched single bite
That nice young preacher Brother Taylor dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billie Joe was throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come and gone since I heard the news ’bout Billie Joe
Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus goin’ round, papa caught it and he died last spring
And now Mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me I spend a lot of time picking flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Ladyjustice Commentary:

If this song was our “first brush with the realization of suicide” was it a precursor to what we have today in so many crimes?   What was the pattern of conduct of Billie Joe and his girlfriend?  What was the significance of throwing something off the bridge?   Had this been a real case I know we would have gotten to the bottom of it.

Fictionalized or real- In 2014, we can NEVER afford to be complacent about homicide or suicide. Never say, “Pass the biscuits please”

 

The Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nv33eaygVDQ

Additional Resources: http://www.ovc.gov/help/tollfree.html;

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

http://performingsongwriter.com/bobbie-gentry-ode-billie-joe/

http://www.metrolyrics.com/ode-to-billie-joe-lyrics-bobbie-gentry.html

http://www.songplaces.com/Ode_to_Billie_Joe/Tallahatchie_Bridge_Choctaw_Ridge_Mississippi

“Thinking out of the Box” to Save Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

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Insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

                          The Victim doesn’t have to take responsibility for the victim’s behavior. Anonymous Victim

We do not have to be a German physicist to know the wisdom and the insanity of the first quote. The second quote is indeed foreign and not without controversy, as it doesn’t fit the status quo.

I submit to you that 49 States in the U.S. have continued the insanity of perpetuating intimate partner violence using the same old “tried and mostly failed methods,” including  lack of judicial and law enforcement communication, AND placing blame and responsibility on the victim, time and time again such that it hurts her/him over and over and over again!

The how and why consists of apathy, desensitization to violence and not holding offenders accountable at any level, such that they know exactly “how to work the system.” It is a vicious cycle with few making it out with any sense of self, dignity, or humanity.

A light at the end of the tunnel was forged by a very insightful Police Chief named Marty Sumner, overseeing the medium-sized city (154,000) of High Point North Carolina.  Beginning in 2009, Chief Sumner wanted to address the most troublesome problem in his community, of repeat offenders perpetrating verbal and physical abuse on their partners, “running through the judicial mill like a mouse on and wheel” and, at times, escalating to homicide.  His community deserved far better.  But, how to do it?  Consulting with Professor David M. Kennedy, Director for the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. In fact the centerpiece of this model which came to be known as the High Point Model, stemmed from a paper called “Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering the Prospect of Sanction.

With the able assistance of researchers from the University of North Carolina and team members  in High Point at every level, consisting of law enforcement, victim advocates, prosecutors, nurses, social workers, victims  and others , they have seen amazing results. They have totally revolutionized the system by at its essence making offenders versus victims responsible for the follow-up that comes after abuse giving advanced notice with harsh consequences and zero tolerance levels while prosecuting batterers for other offenses along the way as part of the process.

Consider this :

1)  Re-arrest rates In the first two years of implementation re-offense rates using this deterrence program were only 9% per 1.000 + perpetrators as compared tov a 20-34% range typically found elsewhere. 

2) In High Pont, since 2009, homicide rated dropped from 33% to 6 % (1 in 16) which were IPV related using the deterrence program. 

It was an illuminating experience to have the opportunity to interview Chief Sumner and his colleague Victim Advocate, Shay Harger of the Piedmont Family Services in Guilford Count , N.C. This program compliments the Victim based Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit- EAA  conceived and created by the late Susan Murphy- Milano.

Listen to Podcast

click to listen button1

         

  • Intimate Partner  Violence PSA’s by Amy Robinson
  • The evolution of the High Point Model- a deterrence regime
  • The Victim’s Point of View and an intimate partner’s journey  without the deterrence program
  • Protective Orders, contact  and reality
  • ExpIaining the components and “what happens after the first call”
  • Notification letters – A model from Hudderfied England
  • Number one call for service and how it plays out in time, phone calls and less serious crimes
  • The cycle of violence – “A family of origin “– Desensitization
  • “If he’s doing this in public, what is he doing at home?”
  • Susan Herman, Victim Advocate and Author
  • Community Involvement: “Continued Contact”
  • Continuous training including Lexington Police – North Carolina
  • Victim advocates need to partner with all community partners
  • Contact Chief Marty Sumner:  marty.sumner@highpointnc.gov

Selected Questions from the “Interrogation Room

  • Can they protect victim’s safety by really controlling the offender?
  • What were the “excuses” and why did they persist?
  • What responsibilities do victims have using the deterrence program?
  • How do they get the message across using  additional charges and police monitoring?
  • Which charges count with the “Al Capone Treatment?”
  • Can violence be deterred by “face to face “messages?
  • What is meant by “meeting them where they are”?

“The comments expressed on this website or on the broadcasts of Shattered Lives do not necessary reflect the opinions or beliefs of the hosts, producers, or other guests.”

 

“WHY DON’T THEY JUST LEAVE?

“WHY DON’T THEY JUST LEAVE? (Asked the legislator, the police, the neighbor, the passive observer etc…)

The Sabel (Cabbage) Palmetto Tree of South Carolina – 

southcarolina-flag-big

They are remarkably hardy, resistant to fire, floods, coastal conditions, cold, high winds and drought. Sabal palmettos are very cold-hardy and able to survive relatively short periods of temperatures as low as 7 °F –(13 °C)  and occasionally much lower. Maintenance of the Cabbage Palm tree is very easy and very adaptable. This palm is known to tolerate drought, standing water and brackish water. Even though this palm is drought-tolerant, it thrives on regular light watering and regular feeding. It is highly tolerant of salt winds, but not saltwater flooding.

Under such hardy palms swaying in the breeze, lives a state, the State of South Carolina under siege with the highest homicide rate against women in the country, for the third time in ten years!   Many of these victims have come through a personal siege of their own, of which intimate partner violence is a very real component.  They have had to be hardy, adaptable and tolerate extremes…just like the mighty Sabel palm. Who is there to offer a safety net?  Enter Elmire Raven, M.A. (pronounced El-meer), Executive Director of My Sister’s House in North Charleston, South Carolina!

The primary reasons given by victims for remaining or returning to their abusive relationships generally fall within a few categories.   According to Raven, a seasoned professional who has lived and worked in the trenches with the victims of intimate partner violence for 25 years, the heart of the matter can be distilled to the following justifications. (I commented regarding each category below.)   Keep in mind, that generalities can be dangerous, as every person; every case has its complexities. However, these truths continue to bind victims to their abusers just the same.

  • Love – is blind- When we’re in it, we see what we want to see…
  • Paternity – is a biological fact of life, but it has noting to do with morality;
  • Potential Homelessness – keeps us down and out and nowhere to rest our weary mind;
  • No Transportation– No wheels or anyone to provide those wheels forces us to remain a “prisoner of our current circumstances;”
  • No Financial Resources– If a woman has no money to sustain her plan of escape; it cannot proceed, as basic financial resources and a way to continue a cash flow is vital to independence.

Why is it that legislators, police, neighbors and others believe that it is a simple matter of “just leaving?”   The truth is, they do not understand the dynamics, the clever manipulations and keen observations of the abuser and the power they have over the victim; what information, threats they use to “keep the woman in line.” In the mind of the victim, the perpetrator’s threats are  worse than her current situation.  And so, frequently, she is resigned to “go along to get along,” taking the abuse, injuries and terror in stride, devoid of dignity, living a surreal numbing existence.

One tool in the “Domestic Violence toolbox” being circulated nationally in honor of the years of effort by the late Susan Murphy Milano, is the prevention tool known as the EAA -Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit which is a component of her revolutionary Document the Abuse program.

My Sister's House, Elmire Raven, Shattered Lives RadioAlthough South Carolina has consistently been in the “top ten” of intimate partner homicides, the tri-county area which My Sister’s House serves has recently seen a decrease in the numbers within their area. The most significant reason is the unity of organizations, the pooling of resources, and working together for the common goal, helping victims.  They have also taken on the added responsibility of providing temporary resources for survivors of human trafficking, a growing population with unique requirements, and different from those of domestic violence.

Shattered Lives Radio had the pleasure of examining the issues surrounding intimate partner violence in South Carolina and universally.

Join us for the interview with Elmire Raven. Below are selected written highlights of the show.

 Listen to Shattered Lives Radio

  • Introduction to our guest
  • The evolution of domestic violence –IPV programs in the South and what they offer now
  • Ranking of Number one in homicides against women- Why?
  • Guns, legislation and what a perpetrator is charged with….OR NOT!
  • The Key- Community support and involvement
  • Discussion of housing, transportation  and the trips to court
  • No tools in order to leave…..
  • The victim – Making a decision; What’s involved? 35% -5 to 7 times…..
  • Do they ever turn people away?
  • A discussion of “to report or not to report”
  • Opportunities for cutting edge collaborations with Human Trafficking and HIV initiatives:
  • http://www.healingspecies.org/programs
  • http://www.communitywelcomehouse.org/bright-horizons/
  • Human Trafficking victims – A very complex issue!
  • Building a new facility in the future!
  • Donation & Contact Information: www.mysistershouse.org
  • Administrative Line: 843-747-4069;
  • 24 Hour Hotline:   843-744-3242  In -State
  • 1-800-273 –HOPE  Nationwide-24/7

Questions for the Listening Audience:

  • What’s the significance of these numbers in the discussion– 36, 85?
  • In Elmire’s opinion, what is the biggest influence on the number of homicides in South Carolina?
  • Criminal Domestic Violence Coordinating Council – What’s it all about?
  • Is the faith-based community part of  the answer?  Why-Why-not?
  • What are the components of their volunteer program?
  • What is the main reason why women return to their abusers?
  • How is enabling a factor and reasons for returning to the shelter?
  • How to we sort out “getting the perpetrator in trouble” versus stopping the abuse?
  • What is the average stay for residents at My Sister’s House?
  • Is there a central place in Southeastern South Carolina for those who are trafficked?
  • What can be done in rural areas?
  • What influences  came to play in Elmire’s success with My Sister’s House?
  • What was Elmire’s parting comment re debunking the greatest myth?

The comments expressed on this website or on the broadcasts of Shattered Lives do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the hosts, producers, or other guests.

“WHY DON’T THEY JUST LEAVE?