"More than 25 people have made fatal jumps from the Tappan Zee Bridge into the Hudson River in the past 10 years, the [New York] State Thruway Authority said," on August 29, 2007, noted New York's CBS-TV.
Called "one of the country's largest bridges," the number of suicides from the Tappan Zee is vague. Copycats are a problem.
"The 3-mile-long Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, which opened in 1955, has no walkway. Would-be suicides tend to drive to midspan, stop their cars in an outside lane, scale the barrier and jump," reported CBS-TV in 2007.
In general, bridge authorities do not like to publicize how many people jump off bridges. "More than 25," of course, could be 250 or 1500. After yesterday's Tappan Zee suicides, the number was revised to "about 30 people" in media accounts.
The specific number of bridge suicides is a touchy topic nationally. Take, for example, what has occurred in conjunction with the suicide count from the Golden Gate Bridge. I wrote about the subject in The Copycat Effect:
Between 1937 and 1973, five hundred people “officially” died by suicide from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s a rate of fourteen a year. Between 1974 and 1995, when the next five hundred victims died, the rate had increased to about twenty-four a year. When the actual number of suicides neared a thousand, local media madness tried to document who would be number 1000. Tad Friend writing in The New Yorker in 2003 about the approach of this milestone in 1995, recalled that a “local disk jockey went so far as to promise a case of Snapple to the family of the victim. That June, trying to stop the countdown fever, the California Highway Patrol halted its official count at 997. In early July, Eric Atkinson, age twenty-five, became the unofficial thousandth; he was seen jumping, but his body was never found.”
By 2003, upwards of 1,300 people are said to have died from throwing themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge, a yearly rate of nearly forty-three people a year. But one Coast Guard coxswain who works closely with others on the bridge recently told the media that the yearly average is, incredibly, closer to three hundred.
The Tappan Zee may have more suicides in its near future because of copycats. On April 3, 2008, it experienced two men jumping from the bridge within an hour of each other. Steve Lieberman of The Journal News shares the following about the news (edited):
The two suicides were individual decisions and represented the first time in recent memory that two people jumped from the bridge within such a short period of time, authorities said.
The first man, a 55-year-old from Montvale, N.J., jumped from the bridge's causeway in Rockland on the Westchester-bound side just before 1:30 p.m. The second man, a 27-year-old from Ossining, leapt into the water from the main span on the Rockland-bound side about 2:30 p.m., about 10 minutes after the first jumper's body had been found.
Both were dead when pulled from the water by Piermont firefighters.
State police were not releasing the names of the two men until they could confirm their identities and notify their families.
The two deaths came about two weeks after a 23-year-old Newburgh man jumped to his death from the 3-mile bridge on the Rockland-bound side. His body has not been recovered.
"This is the first time I can recall two jumpers so close together in time," South Nyack-Grand View Police Chief Robert Van Cura said.
Van Cura, a police officer for 26 years and a volunteer firefighter, said there might have been two jumpers within a 24-hour period before, but he couldn't recall specifically.
A state police report said the jumps were an "unprecedented series of events" on the bridge.
During the past decade about 30 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge. Several others have been saved, either in the water or grabbed on the precipices.
"I don't know what it is about the Tappan Zee Bridge, but it is certainly a magnet for folks," Van Cura said. "This is all very sad. Two people dead."
"Never before have we had two jumpers like this in one day," said Goswick, a three-time Fire Department chief and a 25-year volunteer. "We've had a lot of jumpers in recent years after a quiet period. You don't know what goes through people's minds."
Yesterday's first jumper leapt into the river from the bridge's causeway, which is 35 feet above the river. The chances of survival from that portion is considered better than from the main span, which at its highest point is 157 feet above the river.
Ramesh Mehta, the New York State Thruway Authority's director for the Hudson Valley, said the man pulled into the right lane, which was closed for maintenance. Moments later, a two-truck crew arrived on the scene to ask if the man needed help. He declined and drove off. Mehta said the man then passed through the tolls, turned around at an exit, crossed the bridge back into Rockland, circled around again and then headed back onto the causeway, where he pulled over - and jumped around 1:40 p.m.
He had left the keys in the ignition, witnesses said.
Rescuers found the first jumper just before 2:17 p.m.
At first, state police held out hope of saving his life, though they didn't know at the time the man was dead when pulled from the water.
"We got the person and they are working on him now," Sgt. John Antonelli of the state police said before the jumper had been pronounced dead. "We had a quick response and found the body pretty quickly. We hope they can revive him. In a sense, that height is more survivable."
Authorities have taken some steps to cut down on the number of suicides off the Tappan Zee Bridge and other spans in the Lower Hudson Valley.
In August, the Thruway Authority activated four suicide hotline phones at each end of the bridge. Signs were installed along the approaches on both sides and near midspan directing people to the call boxes. Above each telephone is a sign that says, "When it seems like there is no hope, there is help."
Mehta said the hotlines have yet to receive a call.