Teen dies after falling from bridge

April 11, 1994|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Sun Staff Writer

A 17-year-old Cape St. Claire youth fell 80 feet to his death from a bridge catwalk over the Severn River Saturday night as he led two friends on a daredevil climb across the damaged, metal walkway in the dark.

After a 15-hour search, divers from Maryland Natural Resources Police recovered the body of Michael R. Jacob at 3:15 p.m. yesterday at a depth of 30 feet, not far from where he plummeted into the frigid water from the U.S. 50 bridge.

"He was one hell of a person for a 17-year-old," said his father, Ray Jacob. "He died doing a 17-year-old thing."

Michael, who would have turned 18 on May 3, was a junior at Broadneck Senior High School who liked to play the guitar, draw, sculpt and write poetry.

"He was a very intelligent, down-to-earth guy," said Steve Donnelly, a neighbor for whose children Michael had occasionally baby-sat.

Investigators from the state police barracks in Annapolis said all evidence suggested the death was simply a tragic ending to a teen-age prank. They said there was no evidence Michael or any of the other young people present had been drinking or using drugs.

Police removed a wooden ladder that had offered access to the catwalk under the east end of the bridge, which was rebuilt about three years ago. Neighbors told police that youths had climbed onto the catwalk from time to time in the past.

State police Sgt. Bud Frank said investigators will look into why the catwalk, used by bridge inspectors and maintenance workers, was accessible and why a section was missing.

Sometime before 11 p.m. Saturday, police said, Michael and a half-dozen 16- and 17-year-old friends drove to the area around the east end of the bridge span, a few miles from Michael's home in the 900 block of Blue Ridge Drive.

As their friends watched, Michael and two 16-year-old boys decided to climb to the catwalk as a lark, witnesses told police. They scrambled up the rocks on the shoreline to reach the ladder beneath the span. Balancing on a wooden-plank scaffolding and then on the unlighted metal catwalk, Michael led the other two boys toward the middle of the river.

At one point, more than 30 feet from the shore, Michael reached a place where three or four feet of the metal grate underfoot was missing. He did not turn back.

"Mr. Jacob attempted to climb around the hole, but he lost his footing and fell," Sergeant Frank said. His companions, whom police did not name, heard a splash and hurried off the bridge to call for help from a house nearby.

State police got the call at 11:37 p.m. and responded along with Anne Arundel County police and firefighters and Natural Resources dive teams.

Rescue personnel believed that Michael probably did not survive long in the 41-degree water. "The severity of the impact probably would have been fatal," Sergeant Frank said.

Mr. Jacob, 58, a regional manager for the Wendy's fast food chain, and his wife, Kelly Jacob, 47, a hospice nurse, stood on the shore during the search. Michael's sisters, Lisa, 21, and Susan, 20, and a dozen of his friends joined the vigil.

Mr. Jacob praised the energy and sensitivity of the emergency personnel. But he questioned the wisdom of the state's permitting easy access to the underpinnings of the bridge.

"Michael shouldn't have been up there," Mr. Jacob said. "But there shouldn't have been access. They need to do something so that kids can't get up there. If the challenge is there, kids will take it."

He described his son as an adventurous and fearless young man who spoke of taking a few years to travel around the world after high school and before entering college.

"He was a leader," Mr. Jacob said. "His friends looked up to him because he took care of them. He was a sounding board for them. Despite what happened, he was really very mature for his age."

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