Workers alarmed by nearby suicides
Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 11:26 p.m.
SEATTLE — A bridge over Seattle is becoming hazardous to the mental health of the dot-com employees and other office workers below, who keep seeing people jump to their deaths from the span.
Thirty-nine people over the past decade have committed suicide off the 155-foot-high Aurora Bridge — eight in 2006 alone — and counselors are regularly brought in to help office workers deal with the shock of seeing the leap or the bloody aftermath.
At least one woman, Sarah Edwards, drives on the left side of the street near her office ever since a body landed on the hood of a co-worker's car.
City and state officials, meanwhile, are adding suicide-prevention signs and telephones in hopes of reducing the death toll.
The "suicide bridge," as the half-mile span has been occasionally called since it was built in 1931, carries as many as 45,000 vehicles a day on one of the main north-south highways through Seattle, passing over a narrow channel connecting Lake Washington and Lake Union.
Some jumpers hit the water; others land on the pavement or other solid ground. Either way, they almost always die. (One person is said to have survived after landing in the water.)
The neighborhood beneath the bridge used to be docks and warehouses, and the suicides went largely unnoticed. But during the technology boom of the past two decades, it morphed into a trendy area full of office buildings, shops and restaurants, and the bodies began to fall where people could see them.
"They end up in our parking lot," said Katie Scharer, one of Edwards' co-workers at Cutter & Buck, a sportswear company based in the Adobe complex. "Nobody's ever totally used to it."
Grief counselors regularly go to Cutter & Buck. paying a visit as recently as a month ago.
A few weeks ago, officials installed six emergency phones and 18 signs that read, "Suicidal?" and give the number of a 24-hour crisis line in bold yellow type.
"Any time you can interrupt a suicide thought process, you have a good chance of success, at least temporarily," said L.J. Eddy, head of the police hostage negotiation team.
But as for other possible solutions, transportation officials said installing nets or raising the sides of the bridge could interfere with safety inspections — which are made with a big bucket lowered over the railing — and could catch the wind, making the span dangerously unstable.
Moreover, any plans would need to go through a special public approval process because the bridge is a national historic landmark.
Seattle's other major bridges — the Ship Canal Bridge that carries Interstate 5 and the West Seattle Bridge — see few suicides because they are closed to pedestrians.
The city does not even want to talk about preventing people from walking on the Aurora Bridge, which is a pedestrian link between two densely populated hilltops. But the state has considered moving the pedestrian walkway to an enclosed structure below the span.
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