State looking at ways to stop suicide attempts on Bay Bridge

July 12, 1995|By Andrea Siegel and Richard Irwin

Rising 185 feet above the water, the Bay Bridge offers a glorious view of the Chesapeake Bay. But it also offers something else: a place for suicides.

Though the Maryland Transportation Authority does not keep an official tally, there are estimates that about 75 people have jumped to their deaths since the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge -- the official name of the Bay Bridge -- opened July 31, 1952.

Yesterday, a man jumped from the bridge shortly after 10 p.m., said Maryland Natural Resources Police spokesman Darryl Claggett. He said a woman driving on the bridge saw the man jump. A search by police agencies and the Coast Guard was suspended about midnight and was to resume at daylight. In September 1952, a Baltimore engineer became the first person to leap to his death from the 4.2 mile-span that links Annapolis with Kent Island.

In March, after three men leaped off the Bay Bridge in the space of three weeks, the transportation authority formed a task force aimed at suicide prevention, said spokeswoman Kerry Brandt. It is comprised of authority workers assisted by a psychologist from Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital.

"They are trying to find solutions, things we can do to prevent suicides on the bridge," Ms. Brandt said.

The nine-member group is looking into everything from barriers on the sides to nets below, as well as less-obtrusive measures. It also is studying the cost of such measures, their maintenance needs and the potential effect on the bridge structure. Members expect to make recommendations by the end of the summer, Ms. Brandt said. No implementation dates have been set.

One effort at prevention has started already. Told by psychologists that detailed discussions could encourage copycats, the transportation authority tries to talk little about the issue, she said.

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