Relatives use film of bridge suicides for barrier plea

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The Independent US

Every year, more than 20 people commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and almost every year bereaved relatives bombard local authorities with pleas to build a barrier to deter them. Now, at last, they are receiving a sympathetic hearing - due largely to the activities of a rogue film-maker who has captured almost two dozen of the deaths on camera and plans to produce a documentary about them.

Every year, more than 20 people commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and almost every year bereaved relatives bombard local authorities with pleas to build a barrier to deter them. Now, at last, they are receiving a sympathetic hearing - due largely to the activities of a rogue film-maker who has captured almost two dozen of the deaths on camera and plans to produce a documentary about them.

The Building and Operating Committee responsible for looking after the bridge agreed to explore design and funding options for a barrier after a highly emotional hearing in which psychiatric experts joined grieving families in saying enough is enough.

They argued successfully that many, if not most, people who take the plunge off the Golden Gate Bridge act on impulse, and that if there was a barrier they would not kill themselves there. They probably would not kill themselves anywhere. "If there had been a barrier, I would not have jumped, and I would not have broken my back," one man, John Kevin Hines, told the hearing. He is one of just 26 people to have survived after making the jump. "It was my fault," he added, "but it was an impulsive act. I just needed someone to talk to."

The gloriously beautiful russet-coloured span, which links San Francisco with the rugged coastline of Marin County, has the dubious distinction of being the most popular suicide site anywhere in the world. Other similar magnets, including the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, chose to dispense with their own notoriety by erecting barriers.

The objection in San Francisco has always been aesthetic - a suicide barrier would alter the look of the bridge and sully its elegance. These days, the bridge operators are also deep in debt and have no idea where to find the $2m (£1.1m) needed to explore barrier designs, much less the $15m to $20m it is expected to cost to build.

The board was swayed, however, by the likes of Terry Oxford, a bereaved father, who said: "Put up electric cattle guards. I don't care. If I had $2m, you'd have it. My child was worth more than that." In the past, bridge authorities have resisted even the evidence of a 1978 study, which showed that of 500 people who were stopped from committing suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge only 6 per cent went on to kill themselves in some other way.

The key factor in changing their minds now was film-maker Eric Steel, who obtained a permit to film on the bridge, apparently for other purposes, and then captured more than 20 suicides on camera. The bridge officials felt that was taking things one ghoulish step too far.

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