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Authorities find body in trunk of burned car on Skyway

Firefighters peer into the trunk of a car atop the center span of the Sunshine Skyway, where they found a body burned beyond recognition. The car’s driver leaped off the span to his death. 

Bay News 9

Firefighters peer into the trunk of a car atop the center span of the Sunshine Skyway, where they found a body burned beyond recognition. The car’s driver leaped off the span to his death. 

TAMPA — Cameras fixed on the Sunshine Skyway's tallest span captured it all Monday afternoon:

A car stopped. A man got out. Flames engulfed the car.

Then, as Pinellas firefighters worked to extinguish the flames, the man jumped off the bridge to his death.

Only afterward did firefighters make an even more startling discovery — a dead body in the trunk.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office did not release the names of the dead Monday. The jumper is a man believed to be in his 30s. And the body in the trunk was charred so badly, authorities could not immediately identify the gender.

The investigation at the scene crippled southbound traffic for hours, leaving many stranded on the bridge into dark.

The drama began at 3:12 p.m., said Lt. Joel Granata, a spokesman for St. Petersburg Fire Rescue. Several 911 callers reported a fire blocking southbound lanes.

Calls continued after firefighters were dispatched, Granata said. People saw a man walking down a bridge. At least one saw him holding a gasoline can.

Then came the calls about a jumper.

Granata said the whole thing was captured on Department of Transportation cameras. "They usually see everything that goes on, on the bridge," he said.

The man hit the water close to three fishermen who dragged him out and performed CPR on him, Granata said. A marine rescue unit arrived and took the man to O'Neill's Marina in St. Petersburg, where he was declared dead.

Meanwhile, investigators looked in the car's trunk and discovered the body. The fire scene became a homicide scene and the case was turned over to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over that part of the bridge.

The episode caused massive traffic problems for commuters. Four hours after the initial call, only one southbound lane was open, backing up cars backed up more than 10 miles through St. Petersburg to 54th Avenue N, said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Larry Kraus.

It's 8:30 p.m. and my mom is still stuck on that stupid bridge...," wrote one person commenting on tampabay.com.

People waited in traffic for hours.

"It's absolutely sick," said Bob Bartlett at the O'Neill's Marina bait shop. It happens quite frequently."

Because of the marina's close proximity to the Skyway, Coast Guard vessels often bring the bodies of bridge jumpers in through O'Neill's, he said.

He recognizes the sadness of lives ended on the Skyway, but wishes strangers didn't have to be so inconvenienced.

"The bridge is tied up," he said Monday evening. "The cars are backed up. … If someone wants to take their life, why do they have to hold the bridge up?"

Staff writers Michael Van Sickler and Luis Perez contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Authorities find body in trunk of burned car on Skyway 10/12/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 10:49am]
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