The San Diego Bay, with its iconic Coronado Bay Bridge, is a treasure for those who are granted the opportunity to enjoy and experience it from land or by water. Now, with the bay reopened to boating, this scenery takes on new meanings, as we re-enter public life with a sincere gratitude for its beauty and grace. On Friday, May 8, my family had the opportunity to enjoy a full day on the water, boating up and down the bay and into the open waters. It was a beautiful day, intertwined with the visual and inescapable COVID-19 complexities and societal disturbances. While enjoying the water, I contemplated the hardships of displaced workers who were visible from the Disney cruise ship, Wonder, which continues to be docked, hosting a small number of crew members who are unable to leave the ship, waiting for their next assignment. The empty skies, shores, stores and restaurants along the water from Tom Ham’s Lighthouse to Seaport Village also tugged at my heart with strings of uneasiness that was in direct combat with the excitement of watching the glorious scenes of submarines coming in and out of the harbor, and dads teaching their sons to sail.
As the sun finally broke through the clouds later in the afternoon, our family made a last-minute decision to view the Coronado Bridge and the fleet of Naval ships one more time. This happenstance decision landed us to bear witness to another seemingly more calculated decision by a fellow member of our society. As we closely approached the Coronado Bridge, I became interested in the traffic traveling on the bridge. Where could all those folks be traveling, I thought to myself. How unusual, I thought, as I questioned the behavior of the couple of cars I noticed were now stopped at the highest point of the bridge. My eyes were now focused on this seemingly innocent stop in the flow of traffic. How quickly the situation developed from a puzzlement as to why there were a couple of people standing at the edge of the bridge, to an abrupt shifting into screams of horror as a young man threw his body over the barricade. His body plunged downward, with a forceful end of life unacceptable for any innocent onlooker to view.
As the minutes have turned to hours since we witnessed this suicide, my mental replays and questions have multiplied. Who was the young man who decided to end his life? Why, why, why did he do it? Why did this not make the news? Was his decision related to the harsh economic hardships facing many of us due to COVID-19? Did the Harbor Police locate his body? Who was the Good Samaritan who stopped his car? How did he or she go into action so fast, and how are they coping? What is the history of suicides from the Coronado Bridge? Why did it become my family’s experience to witness another’s mental illness and destruction of a human body and life?
It is too easy to use this bridge as a vehicle for suicide, as more than 400 people have died from leaping off it since it opened in 1969. The Coronado Bridge is used for 13 to 19 suicides per year, and the anti-suicide spikes that have been installed are not dissuading people from jumping. This bridge will quickly become the No. 1 bridge in the United States used for suicides, since the current No. 1, the Golden Gate Bridge, is working to complete a suicide net protection system. A 1978 Seiden study of the Golden Gate Bridge showed that 90 percent of those stopped from jumping did not later die by suicide or other violent means. A Harvard School of Public Health article reviewing numerous studies showed more broadly that “Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date.”
It is clear that the city of San Diego must now take action. Our fellow community members are experiencing unprecedented levels of psychological trauma due to the unfolding consequences of COVID-19. Please, let’s support each other through this crisis and develop a solution to this epidemic of suicides from the Coronado Bay Bridge.
Sheri Sachs is an elected member of the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee, and is a member of the FBI San Diego Citizens Academy Alumni Association.