The Bridge of Death


"All of us came to the same conclusion that we were human beings first and filmmakers second," Steel said. "And if the opportunity to intervene, to try to save someone's life came, that's the choice that we were going to make."

In that time, Steel and his team saved six people, and one person more than once.

But sometimes there was little they could do. Many of the people who ended up jumping looked like tourists contemplating the view. Like 34-year-old Eugene Sprague.

"It was a beautiful, sunny day. He had a leather jacket on, and he has this very long brown hair that was blowing in front of his face, and he did what most, most tourists do on the bridge." Steel said. "He began at the south side. He walked all the way across the bridge," Steel said. "He seemed to, you know, stop occasionally and enjoy the view of the ocean, and enjoy the view of the city and the bay. He wasn't crying. He, he just looked very free."

The story of Eugene Sprague opened a door to many of the issues connected to this film, and the complex circumstances behind a suicide attempt.

According to Steel, Eugene's life was very difficult. His mother had died when he was young, an event that "darkened his whole outlook on life. He seemed not to be able to maintain relationships with women. And his friends were trying hard to find a way to bring him back.

"He was not a morose loner, certainly not that," Carolyn Pressley, a lifelong friend of Sprague and his mother, said. "He just wasn't outgoing in a mainstream sense."

Sprague was depressed, however, and he had talked about committing suicide, although when Pressley heard from him, shortly before Steel saw him on the bridge, he had been looking for work.

"It appeared that he was about to get some," Pressley said. "And on the day that he made his final choice, I don't think ... anyone really had a sense that today's the day."

Sprague's suicide caught Steel and his crew off guard -- they didn't see anything in his behavior that caused them to alert suicide prevention crews on the bridge. They watched Sprague going back and forth for 93 minutes, walking back and forth along the bridge, finally returning to the spot where he had started. He sat for a moment, and then turned around and ended his life.

Like many friends and relatives of suicide victims, Pressley can't quite get over Sprague's death.

"I don't think I've ever stopped being bothered by it," she said. "I think any of us who are touched by this phenomenon never stop asking themselves what might I have done? What didn't I do?"

Steel agreed.

"The strange thing about the bridge itself is that when someone dies there, there's this big splash," he said. "And within minutes, it's like nothing ever happened. All the ripples go away. And the traffic keeps moving, and the pedestrians are walking, and the water's going under the bridge. But for the families, that ripple keeps going forever."

Some, however, welcome the debate on suicide, but worry about other effects that the film might have in romanticizing suicide.

"There are times that suicide is presented as mysterious, as appealing and as inevitable, and those are messages that we absolutely do not want anyone to share," said Dr. Madelyn Gould, a professor of psychiatry and public health at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

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