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Barricades go up after two men fall off John's Pass Bridge

MADEIRA BEACH — Aaron Motta wanted to keep fishing. The current had just changed beneath the John's Pass Bridge and the 17-year-old thought this would be his chance to catch fish.

His mom wanted him to come home. She sent him a text telling him as much. Aaron sent her a text, saying he would be home soon, then headed across the bridge for one last shot.

Several minutes later, and still no sign of Aaron, his mother sent another text:

"You fall in or something?''

Aaron already was in the water.

These days, stories about people falling off the new bridge are not uncommon.

Late Friday, Joseph Schlag, 31, of Pinellas Park fell off while fishing, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office reported.

Schlag fell about 30 feet through an opening on the bridge median, landing head-first on a concrete piling. He remains at Bayfront Medical Center in critical condition with a fractured skull.

On Tuesday, state officials closed off a section of the median, which separates the northbound and southbound lanes.

"We're still investigating whether we need to do something," said Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marian Scorza.

The median doesn't extend across the bridge. Near its peak it stops, leaving a 100-foot-long, 3-foot-wide opening.

That's where people are falling through.

Madeira Beach Fire Chief Derryl O'Neal said the problem is that some pedestrians, usually fishermen, are trying to cross at that point.

"It's not a designated walkway,'' he said.

The bridge was rebuilt over four years, reopening in 2010. The top of the deck is about 30 feet above John's Pass.

But to some passers-by, the median is deceiving.

"I was shocked,'' said Motta, who sustained minor injuries but swam to safety.

Alex Oremland, 20, of Safety Harbor, works nearby but fishes frequently off the bridge.

"It's hard to tell,'' he said, "because a part of it is concrete and then it just drops."

Michael Finch II can be reached at mfinch@tampabay.com and on Twitter at @mike_finch2.

Barricades go up after two men fall off John's Pass Bridge 07/03/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 1:11am]

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