Golden Gate Bridge suicide theory disputed

The majority of people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge to their deaths in the last decade were Bay Area residents, according to a new study released by the Marin County Coroner’s Office.

Officials hope the study, released Monday in conjunction with the nonprofit Bridge Rail Foundation, will debunk the theory that people flock to the bridge from “all over the world” to commit suicide. Rather, officials say, it’s easy access to the bridge and its 4-foot-tall railing that lead to so many suicides.

The study comes at a time when the bridge officials are debating the placement of a controversial suicide barrier.

In May, bridge officials unveiled three design concepts for a barrier, including high fencing that some say will block the view from the iconic bridge, as well as netting below the railing and protective glass panes.

Since the Golden Gate Bridge opened 70 years ago, more than 1,250 people committed suicide by jumping from the railing into the freezing waters of the Bay, according to the Coroner’s Office. The new report is meant to coincide with the anniversary of the first bridge suicide 70 years ago.

In 1937, World War II veteran Harold Wobber turned to a friend while walking on the bridge and said, “This is where I get off,” before jumping over the railing, according to Paul Muller, of the Bridge Rail Foundation.

“The rail is so short that you can actually be with a friend and they can’t even react fast enough to stop you. It’s that dangerous,” Muller said.

In the last five years, there have been an average of 20 bridge suicides, but this year isoutpacing the average, with 24 suicides so far to date, said Mary Currie, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.

“If you look at suicides over the last 40 to 45 years, it’s very up and down. No one has been able to peg why that is,” Muller said.

Since 1997, about 85 percent of jumpers have been from the nine-county Bay Area, with 30 percent from San Francisco and 14 percent from Marin County, according to the coroner’s study.

“The reality for us is we’re dedicated to stopping as many people as we can,” Currie said. “About 70 percent of all attempts are stopped by our work force. We need to continue being vigilant on that front.”

By the numbers

» More than 85 percent of people who jump from the bridge are Bay Area residents.

» Northern California residents account for more than 92% of the suicide jumps.

» Average jumper’s age: 42. (Youngest: 14-year-old girl; oldest: 84-year-old man)

» Men outnumber women almost 3 to 1.

» Caucasians account for 83 percent of all fatalities.

» San Francisco and Marin counties had the highest number of deaths, followed by Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.

– Source: Marin County Coroner’s Office

arocha@examiner.com


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