The Golden Gate Bridge in my City is a world-renowned iconic image. Uncounted photos, postcards, movies, and songs have been created to celebrate its enduring beauty.
In contrast, the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge on the eastern side of San Francisco has no such fame. … Sorry, Oakland.
After an exhausting 12-hour shift chasing morons and thugs throughout the inner city, all I wanted to do was get home before the usual afternoon rush hour calamity and have a cold beer.
The Hall of Justice is located pretty close to several Bay Bridge on-ramps, and in my oversize Ford SUV, I had the horsepower to beat yellow lights, and carpool lanes.
Even without the negligible value of red lights and sirens, a veteran cop can get through traffic pretty quickly.
Headed east in the number 6 curb lane, I was plotting my zigs and zags to pass taxis full of tourists, and the odd delivery truck, when I had to practically stand on the brakes to avoid destroying some wimpy import car the size of a skateboard.
Looking ahead four or five cars, I tried to see if someone had a flat tire or had an inconsequential, to me, fender-bender. There were no cars trying to reverse merge over, and to my amazement, people were getting out of their cars, and running to peer over the waist high safety fence.
I saw in the small breakdown pocket right where the east side suspension cable rose to the ceiling that there was a large sedan with all its doors open.
Keeping in mind what happens to curious cats, I opened my driver’s door, and was almost nearly bisected by a tour bus passing me at over the 60 mph speed limit.
I ran the 40 feet to where a gaggle of commuters were pointing and talking frantically on cell phones and peered over the edge of the bridge.
Less than five feet below me, almost within a basketball players grasp, was a very calm looking man in a suit and tie.
The tie was cream-yellow, and he had the matching handkerchief in the breast pocket of his expensive gray coat.
The wind was whipping like it was a kite flying contest, but he didn’t seem to notice. Sitting on a rusted gray metal girder that was almost the same shade as his outfit, he had a sad yet serine semi-smile on his face. I could see where he had scuffed his pleated and pressed dress pants climbing over and down the side of the bridge.
Two trains of thought started racing thru my mind:
Can I talk this poor schlub into standing up far enough so I could grab him?
Did I still have that 50 feet of gold-line climbing rope with my back-packing gear in the back of my Bronco?
Counterpoint to the first thought: He looked pretty fit and heavy. If I did manage to grab him, how sure was I that he wouldn’t pull us both over?
Counterpoint second: How long would it take me to get to my truck, find the rope, do a sensible bowline waist harness around my hips, tie it off, and then somehow get over the side of the bridge to attempt a forced rescue?
It was a nauseating 600-plus foot free fall from his perch, and while I’m not skittish about heights, I had once fallen 40 feet from a missed rock-climbing belay in the Yosemite Valley, and as a result I was reluctant to try my luck here without some sort of trained assistance.
I started working up the conversation needed for the first option, telling the guy my name, asking about things I hope were neutral enough not to panic him further, and going down my mental suicide mediation / prevention check list.
About five minutes into my spiel, with all of the civilians remarkedly keeping quiet and letting me do my job, he looked directly in my eyes, stood up, and then just sorta casually leaned backwards.
The wind went silent and the freeway noise turned off as well…
I stood there, arms and fists clenched like bridge iron, and watched him oh-so-slowly pinwheel feet over head over feet, getting smaller and smaller with each rotation.
I watched his eyes until I lost focus, and then saw a relatively small splash to mark his point of impact as he hit the wind whipped waves below at about 123 mph.
In my 25 years of cop work until that date, I’d seen a lot of dead bodies, and watched too many people expire in front of me. This, however, was entirely too intimate and personal.
Still numb, I let the detective in me walk over to the guy’s car and look inside, trying to do something constructive like finding his name from the car registration forms.
The front seat had all of this guy’s personal belongings lined up like Boy Scouts in review: Wallet, keys, comb, checkbook, and a pile of neatly folded money with a torn $5 bill on the top, all placed with a precise and orderly intent.
I’d been to quite a few death scenes and understood that this was part of a suicide-to-be ritual. Leave life in an orderly way, and under your own final misunderstood terms.
I glanced in the back-seat area and saw the edge of an expensive baby-safety seat. With a new horror starting to claw up in the back of my mind, I jumped around to the open right-side door, and looked inside.
There was a beautiful baby girl sitting on the floor of the car, sucking like crazy on a pacifier, and smiling at me with coal black eyes.
The seat that had cradled her during her trip to the bridge was still securely fastened, but the individual restraints to hold her in the seat had been removed and were ominously neatly folded on the pavement by the door.
One of the least shaken of the witnesses came up to me and told me in a quaking voice that the jumper had the baby in his arms while peering over the bridge fence, and initially looked like he was trying to climb onto the girder while holding the little girl.
Reportedly, he put the infant down on the pavement, got over the bridge boundary, and was reaching to get the girl back when the commuters rushed forward, grabbed the baby, and put her back in her father’s car for safe keeping.
My throat clenched up.
The pressure of the wind forced me to sit on the curb, and to stare numbly into space for a while, until the CHP rolled up and began flaring the crime scene for a couple hundred yards.
I called my Dispatch, told them at length what had transpired, and informed them that I’d file my paperwork the next day.
The hell with protocol; I wasn’t going back to work to file a Death by Suicide report just then.
When I got home and saw my 4 and 6-year-old daughters playing in the front yard, I had to once again sit down, and then hug them both probably too hard for a not-long-enough period of time.
Just another commute!