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DV Pilot Police & Fire

Will GWB follow Golden Gate with suicide nets?

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

A PUBLISHER WRITES: Now that officials in San Francisco have OK’d a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey can no longer ignore calls for similar nets for the George Washington Bridge.

The $76 million plan for nets made of thick steel cables stretched two stories below the 1.7-mile length of the east and west edges of the Golden Gate will finally end its decades-long rep as one of the world’s most infamous suicide magnets.

The nets will slope upward slightly, like in some baseball parks, to prevent jumpers from climbing out. A retrieval device will scoop them up.

At least 1,600 people have committed suicide from the Golden Gate, including a record 46 last year. For decades, many of their survivors have begged for barriers.

“The time of healing can only begin when the steady drip-drip-drip of bodies into the raging waters has stopped,” said Dana Barks of Napa, whose son, Donovan, jumped to his death in 2008.

The two biggest arguments against the nets — that they will mar the appearance of the scenic bridge’s and will send suicides elsewhere — are both hollow.

For one thing, the Golden Gate’s nets are designed to blend. Even if they didn’t, the compassion that they’ll represent will only endear the copper-colored span to the world.

But that’s simple aesthetics. Statistics hold sway here, as well:

Jerry DeMarco

A recent study found that 9 of 10 troubled people who are deterred from what generally is an impulse to jump from a perch with such broad vistas don’t seek another route.

Makes the idea of nets at the George even more appealing, doesn’t it?

After all, driving fast is a blast. But speed limits save lives.

And that’s what this is about.

By the numbers: Suicides from the Ellington Street Bridge in Washington, D.C., went from more than two dozen in seven years to one in five after a barrier was installed. The Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower stopped becoming suicide magnets after erecting nets.

The Port Authority can’t cry poverty, either. The funding sources for the Golden Gate barriers are $20 million in bridge toll revenue, $49 million in federal money and $7 million from the state of California (The contribution from Washington was made possible by a bill signed into law two years ago making safety barriers and nets eligible for federal funds).

So it’s doable.

The plunge to the water below might seem a peaceful end to some. Far from it.

It takes a GWB jumper barely three seconds to hit the water at more than 55 miles an hour, creating 15 tons of force on impact.

The result: broken bones and skulls and massive internal injuries.

Drowning? Hardly.

As Paul Newman said in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”: The fall will probably kill ya.

Makes it hard to believe that an estimated 20 or so people have survived the drop.

A 28-year-old a former Naval Academy water-polo player was the last one, in 2009. Several years ago, a woman was plucked from the water alive but suffering from serious lifelong injuries. The same for a man who lived to tell about his leap in 1968.

Then there was a Bergen County man who in the 1940s bet a friend that he could survive. He swam to shore, collected his money — then died of his injuries a few days later.

The number of jumpers from the 82-year-old GWB has ticked up in recent years.

There were 15 confirmed suicides last year. There were also 49 saves — formally known as “interventions,” the authority’s Joseph Pentangelo said.

That came after what is considered a recent GWB record, 18 suicides, that were recorded in 2012 — more than all of the other Hudson and East River crossings combined. This followed a decade that averaged six per year.

Just about halfway through this year, 11 deaths from the GWB have been confirmed. Double that and you have a modern-day record.

There have also been 32 saves since Jan. 1, Pentangelo said. That’s more than one a week.

Two weeks ago, a good Samaritan from Haworth grabbed a 67-year-old Union City man as he climbed over the railing with a mouthful of pills ( Click here to READ MORE…. ).

Last year, Port Authority Police Officer Jesse Turano grabbed a 40-year-old Queens man who “went airborne” and pulled him back over a railing. A month later, a 57-year-old homeless man had one leg over the railing when Port Authority Police Officer Raul Munoz pulled him to safety.

On Feb. 1, a 26-year-old Manhattan woman stared down at the river after climbing over a GWB railing when she was surprised by Officers Stephen Gryboski, a 13-year department veteran, and Mario Garcia, a nine-year vet.

Drawing of proposed Golden Gate Bridge nets

While one grabbed her in a bear hug, pinning her to the railing, the other got hold of her legs and flipped her back onto the south walkway. She was brought to Bergen Regional Medical Center.

Yes, a rescue may not make a difference to someone whose brain chemistry is volatile or who, for whatever reason, has lost all hope.

Last Sunday, a 50-year-old Montvale man talked with rescuers for more than an hour before pllunging from the George to the Hudson. His body was recovered Wednesday.

The father of two worked for one of the country’s largest banks and was extremely active in the community. Sources told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he had cancer.

Clearly, the best place to discuss reasons for living isn’t with a desperate person perched 220 feet above the unforgiving river.

That’s why nets more than make perfect sense.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says the four-foot railings make it easy for those with the will. Bridge barriers work best, in tandem with signs and phones along the walkways, the organization says.

On the plus side, the Port Authority employs a private security company to be its eyes and ears on the GWB when officers aren’t frequently patrolling. A dozen or so phones are labeled “Need Help” in Spanish and English, and connect directly to suicide hotlines. The walkways close at midnight.

Research shows that intense suicidal emotions rarely last a long time. If that weren’t enough, consider: Nine of 10 people who by die by suicide suffer from a treatable disorder, not the other way around.

Kevin Hines, who suffers from bi-polar disorder and survived a Golden Gate jump 14 years ago, said he hesitated and wouldn’t have gone over the side “if someone just showed me that he or she cared.”

We are a compassionate people. We do so much to honor the memories of those who have gone before — especially those who’ve died way too young.

What better way to honor the many who’ve plummeted to their deaths in the Hudson than by catching and cradling those trying to follow them?

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