George Washington Bridge Suicide Jumper Highlights Lack of Barriers

PHOTO: Traffic moves over the Hudson River and across the double-decked George Washington Bridge, Dec. 17, 2013 in Ft. Lee, N.J.John Moore/Getty Images
Traffic moves over the Hudson River and across the double-decked George Washington Bridge, Dec. 17, 2013 in Ft. Lee, N.J.

A 25-year-old woman dangling over the edge of the upper level of New York’s George Washington Bridge was stopped from jumping to her death by a cop, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Officer Christopher Outhouse climbed over an inner railing yesterday morning and grabbed the woman whose torso was hanging 212-feet over the icy Hudson River. Authorities did not release her name, but said she was taken to the hospital. She had threatened to kill herself in text messages and authorities found several unfilled prescriptions for medication to treat bipolar disorder and depression.

Hers was the fourth suicide attempt in the first two months of this year, according to Port Authority spokesman Joe Pentangelo. One, a 19-year-old male on Feb. 22, was successful. In 2013, he confirmed 15 suicides and 49 interventions.

Suicide numbers are greater at the 81-year-old bridge than all other local bridges combined, but Pentangelo would not comment on what prevention measures had been taken.

Civilian security guards assist Port Authority Police in watching for jumpers, but pedestrian walkways and low railings make the bridge easily accessible.

Since 2000, suicides off the bridge have averaged about six a year, but are on the rise, according to USA Today; 10 deaths were reported in 2010, but by 2012, there were 18 successful jumps.

'Suicide Bridge' reduces impulse to jump.

In 2010, two made national headlines: 18-year-old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who jumped from the bridge after he was secretly filmed having an intimate encounter with a man, and chef Joseph Cerniglia, a contestant on the reality cooking show "Kitchen Nightmares," who had mounting restaurant debts.

In February 2013, 22-year-old Ashley Riggitano, a recent grad of the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising in Manhattan, jumped off the bridge. And in October, Donovan Dickson a 24-year-old teacher from New Jersey’s Peddie School, leapt to his death, landing on a patch of gravel.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline promotes the use of bridge barriers as the "most effective" means of bridge suicide prevention. They also recognize that signage or other public education media near bridges promoting awareness of hotlines can supplement such barriers.

In 2012, Port Authority police ordered foot and car patrols be intensified with patrols that looked out for jumpers. That year, 43 attempted suicide and 18 were successful, according to the Port Authority.

But despite its reputation as a suicide mecca, the George Washington Bridge still has no barriers or nets to dissuade suicide attempts.

About a dozen telephones along its walkways are labeled in Spanish and English, “Need Help,” which can connect potential jumpers to suicide hotlines.

Trust pulled woman back from the brink of suicide.

Some studies show that iconic bridges and other physical structures draw those with suicidal impulses, but if barriers are in place, many deaths can be prevented.

The biggest “suicide magnet” in the world is San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, with nearly 2,000 so far, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2013, there were 10 confirmed deaths in August alone, the most suicides in any month in the bridge’s history.

Besides its historic appeal for jumpers, the bridge offers easy access with parking lots on either side and walkways for pedestrians and bikers. Some critics say its low rail – only four-feet high – is no deterrent. The newspaper reports that “anyone can climb over it.”

In 2008, the city proposed a suicide prevention net, but it was never funded. “As a result, the Golden Gate Bridge continues to be the only major international suicide landmark without a barrier.”

More than 230 people have taken their lives at the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, making it the second deadliest "suicide bridge" in the United States, behind the Golden Gate Bridge, according to Seattle Friends. Since 1995, 50 people have died, and more than half of the victims landed on the pavement and busy intersections below.

But since 2011, safety barriers have been in place, thanks to a suicide-prevention organization. Now, state transportation officials, who spent $4.8 million on the project, say guardedly that it is working.

American universities struggling with high suicide rates are also finding barriers are effective.

New York University in Lower Manhattan just completed the renovation of a 150-foot-tall space after a several students jumped to their deaths inside a library.

In 2003, after two suicides less than a month apart, the university installed 8-foot, plastic-glass walls in its library's atrium. But another student scaled the wall in 2009 and killed himself. Now, a new system of lace-like aluminum panels has been installed around the balconies and staircases.

Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has also addressed its suicide problem by installing mesh nets on five bridges that cross gorges around campus. The school has had 27 such deaths between 1990 and 2010, 15 of them students.

Some experts argue that those intent on suicide will find a way, regardless of attempts to dissuade jumpers, but one study, reported in the New York Times story, "The Urge to End It All," suggests otherwise.

Two bridges in Washington, D.C., span the 125-foot deep Rock Creek gorge, the Ellington, famous as the "suicide bridge" with about four deaths a year, and the Taft, with fewer than two a year.

But after three people died in a 10-day period in 1985, the city erected barriers at the Ellington Bridge. Critics feared jumpers would just go to the Taft instead. But five years later, a study showed no suicides at the Ellington Bridge and no change at Taft. As a result, the overall suicide deaths went down in the nation's capital by 50 percent.