Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Study on Golden Gate Bridge suicides released


The vast majority of people who leap to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge are local residents, according to a study that challenges the notion that the span draws jumpers from around the globe.

The study released on Monday by Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes and the Bridge Rail Foundation, a group advocating for a bridge suicide barrier, presented a portrait of the average jumper: a 41-year-old white man from the San Francisco Bay area.

"One of the arguments against the barrier is that nothing can be done, that the bridge has this ethereal quality and people are drawn from all over the world," foundation spokesman Paul Muller said. "But the numbers show that people are coming from the Bay Area because it's convenient and easy."

The release of such figures reverses a longtime policy by officials to not publicize the tally of bridge suicides to prevent copycat behavior.

A race to be the 500th jumper occurred in 1973, and the California Highway patrol stopped counting in 1995 after the 997th official suicide.

Holmes, whose office handles most deaths at the bridge, said he decided to issue the report to inform the debate over building a suicide barrier and because media attention, or the lack thereof, did not seem to greatly affect the number of suicides.

"Over time, the numbers never really changed, even though there was nothing in the paper," said Holmes, also a Bridge Rail Foundation board member.

"The downside of not making a count was there was nothing in the public eye about the number of people taking their life there," he said.

The study, which examined records dating back a decade, was released 70 years after a man logged the first bridge suicide just two months after the span opened to pedestrians. Since then, more than 1,250 suicides have occurred, spurring strong support in recent years to build a prevention barrier.

The Golden Gate Bridge District is spending US$1.8 million to conduct feasibility studies on whether to build a barrier, and a final decision could come next spring.

Other highlights from the study:

* More than 85 percent of people who jump from the bridge are Bay Area residents, and more than 92 percent are from Northern California.

* The average bridge jumper is 41.7 years old. The youngest was a 14-year old girl, the oldest an 84-year old man.

* Men outnumber women almost three to one.

* Whites account for 83 percent of all fatalities.

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