Seattle Office Routine: Coffee, Email, Watch for Suicidal Jumpers

Troy Gilliland arrives at his office early in the morning to take in the breathtaking sunrise views of Seattle's historic Aurora Bridge as he drinks his coffee and checks e-mail. But on Dec. 9, he did a double take. There was a bloodied, crumpled body in the parking lot only 20 feet below his window.

"I looked closer and my stomach started to turn," said Gilliland, a 36-year-old engineering manager who works for the semiconductor chip manufacturing company Impinj. "The body was lying in an odd position and blood was coming out."

Gilliland said he and his co-workers, whose office cubicles sit along windows overlooking the 75-year-old half-mile-long bridge, have seen at least 10 other suicide jumps in the last year. And four of them have landed right in their parking lot.

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"It's been an ongoing theme," said Gilliland. "You see a body in the parking lot and look at the bridge and see a vacant car with the door open. It gives you a sick feeling in the stomach -- how could someone be that despondent?"

The residents in this funky residential colony in the Fremont section of Seattle call them "jumpers," and Washington state officials report about 50 of them have leaped to their death in the last decade, nine of them this year.

The office block where Gilliland works houses 400 to 500 employees from four or five companies, including the software giant Adobe and sportswear retailer Cutter & Buck. Their shared lot spans about 300 yards on the northwest side of the bridge, and those who drive must pass under the bridge to park their cars.

A woman who jumped to her death this month landed only one foot away from a pick-up truck. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported earlier this year that one jumper actually fell on an SUV while the driver was inside. The body struck the passenger side, and the driver was not hurt.

Not only are the falling bodies disturbing to employees, but so are the off-putting sirens, ambulances and police who cordon off the lot in the aftermath of the jumps.

And that's not all. When a 15-year-old girl jumped to her death this year, family and friends spray painted a memorial in the parking lot.

Incidents generally happen in the morning. Someone notices a body and a group quickly gathers by the windows and gawks for 45 minutes to an hour.

"The cars arrive to block off the area and take photos and a tarp is put over the body," said Gilliland. "You feel a sense of loss even though you don't know the person."

Not only have the jumpers landed in the lot under Gilliland's window, but also in the waters of Lake Union on the eastern side of the bridge. Police say one went through the roof of an unoccupied houseboat.

At the Lake Washington Rowing Club, which sits below the bridge on North Lake Way, boaters have been traumatized by jumpers who splash near a 60- to 80-foot dock that is surrounded by houseboats and sailboats.

Conor Bullis, who started as manager of the club only six days ago, was forewarned by his staff.

"The first day I was here everyone told me I'd probably see someone jump every week," he said.

One club member attempted to rescue a jumper while sitting in her boat under the bridge.

"I saw a black object falling fast toward the water about 25 yards ahead of me, and for an instant I thought it was a large bird, diving for a fish," said Susan Kinney, who said the body hit the water with a dense thud.

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