After two New York jumps, aiming to prevent public suicide

People hold a candlelight vigil Sunday in New Brunswick, N.J., in memory of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22.

Associated Press

People hold a candlelight vigil Sunday in New Brunswick, N.J., in memory of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22.

NEW YORK — Eighteen-year-old Tyler Clementi typed his intention to millions on the Internet: "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." His body was found days later floating in the Hudson River beneath the George Washington Bridge.

Chef Joseph Cerniglia, a contestant on the reality cooking show Kitchen Nightmares, also jumped from the iconic bridge in the past two weeks. His restaurant was mired in debt, though beginning to make a comeback.

In March, Yale University student Cameron Dabaghi jumped from the Empire State Building's 86th-floor observation deck. He had written a note saying he was sorry and would be jumping from either the George Washington Bridge or the totemic skyscraper.

Those who choose to end their lives in public, dramatic fashion often pick landmarks — from the George Washington Bridge overlooking Manhattan and the Palisades, to the Golden Gate Bridge, with its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay.

Authorities are looking at how to prevent the public deaths with everything from concrete barriers, suicide hotline phones or safety nets hanging from bridges.

The measures would have made a difference for Kevin Hines, who survived a leap from the 746-foot Golden Gate in 2000. "I would never have jumped off that bridge" if he found obstructions in the way, he said.

In New York, few city landmarks with the potential to become suicide hot spots are as accessible as the George Washington, which has a pedestrian path and a low railing.

The Empire State Building has a 10-foot-high safety fence and an abundance of security guards, but more than 30 people have leapt from it to their deaths since it opened in 1931. The Brooklyn Bridge, which also has seen fatal jumps this year, has an easy-to-get-to pedestrian walkway, but it hangs over lanes of vehicle traffic rather than water.

New York City police responded to more than 640 reports of people either jumping or threatening to jump from buildings or bridges as of Aug. 31, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said — a 27 percent increase over the same period last year.

The police have officers trained to talk down and grab would-be jumpers and deploy air bags in the streets to catch people threatening to jump from buildings.

A dozen telephones are installed along the pedestrian walkways on the George Washington that patch potential jumpers through to suicide hotlines. The phones are near signs that read, "Need help?" in English and Spanish.

Dr. John Draper, project director of the National Suicide Prevention Hot Line in New York, says a simple concrete barrier is a much better suicide deterrent on a bridge than a telephone.

"We've seen on bridges that people don't really call hotlines in high numbers," he said.

After two New York jumps, aiming to prevent public suicide 10/04/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 4, 2010 12:26am]

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