On Oct. 26, 2015, police spent seven hours attempting to talk MTV star Sam Sarpong out of jumping off the Colorado Street Bridge.
The 40-year-old Sarpong gained fame as a model and appeared in the TV shows “My So-Called Life,” “Veronica Mars,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “24.” Prior to his death, he completed filming in an episode of “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
Despite the efforts of the city’s crisis negotiation team, Sarpong leapt to his death.
His death led to more calls for placement of barriers on the bridge, which would stop people from climbing the fence and getting to the edge.
Following 12 more suicides since Sarpong’s death, six so far in 2017 alone, the city is taking steps that could stop people from jumping off the iconic bridge.
Ten-feet high, one-inch-thick mesh fencing will temporarily be placed on the bridge restricting access to the areas used to climb over the railing.
“We’ve had about a half-dozen of these types of incidents this year,” said the city’s Public Information Officer William Boyer. “We’ve decided we need to be proactive to do something to curtail the inappropriate use of the Colorado Street Bridge.”
The bridge, which spans the Arroyo Seco and connects Pasadena to Eagle Rock, was built in 1913. However, concerns have risen since the council approved a project that allows Habitat for Humanity to build nine homes just beneath the bridge.
“I have two beautiful little girls. They’re 3. They’ll be playing there. People jumping from the bridge, them witnessing that is definitely a great concern to me,” future resident Matthew McKim told CBS News in April.
That housing project will also include a playground, which has led other parents moving into the development to express concerns about people jumping.
Local firefighters and other public safety officials have been meeting with concerned homeowners in the area.
“There have been other bodies that I understand from the police that actually landed right here,” Marci Solway told the network.
Signs have been erected along the bridge to discourage suicides. But even then, Solway said, “We can’t get out of our homes; we can’t go into our homes.
“I’m concerned that a little child could be there; someone’s up on the bridge. No warning that someone’s jumping and wham! So for the safety of children, I’m not so sure we should even have a playground. People who don’t live down here don’t understand what goes on.”
On Wednesday, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee was scheduled to discuss more permanent solutions including construction of a new railing that curves away from the outside of the bridge which would make it harder for people to climb the fences, and installation of netting beneath the bridge. Other ideas included installing phones that connect directly to a suicide prevention hotline and bridge patrols.
A report by the Public Safety Committee identified the benches at the 20 alcoves — 10 on each side of the bridge — as problematic.
“[The] seating area, the railing and the plaster combine to provide ‘steps’ to an elevation where jumpers can go over the railing,” the report reads.
Police and firefighters responded to two women — one of them a teenager — who jumped to their deaths in June.
According to Pasadena Fire Department Spokesperson Lisa Derderian, police never had a chance to talk to either of the jumpers in those cases.
“The last two jumpers did so without any hesitation,” Derderian told the Pasadena Weekly. “Sometimes police spend hours talking to them, but not this time.”
The bridge is a historic landmark, and local preservationists have argued against changes to the architecture.
“We have reached out to Pasadena Heritage. They are aware of the situation,” Boyer said. “It is my understanding they know it is just a temporary measure to stem the tragic loss of life that is occurring due to the misuse of the Colorado Street Bridge.”
Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, noted “there is great concern about preventing the sad and tragic activities.” But, “on the other hand physical intervention on the bridge is probably only a small part of addressing the needs of people who would go there. Finding a solution that balances the aesthetics of the bridge and its accessibility to people who think of it as the last place they will spend time on earth is the hard part.”
According to a national study published in January that compared the effectiveness of various structural suicide prevention methods on bridges, including netting and barriers, barriers led to an 82 percent reduction rate in suicides.
The bridge came to prominence in the 1921 Charlie Chaplin film “The Kid.” In that movie, Chaplin’s tramp character successfully saves a young woman before she could jump to her death from the bridge.
Soon after the film, people began jumping off the bridge in droves. During the Great Depression, which began in 1929 after the stock market crash devastated the nation’s economy leaving millions out of work, 79 people jumped off the bridge and people began calling it “Suicide Bridge,” according to a staff report. The morbid name has endured, much to the chagrin of city officials. In fact, so many people were jumping from the bridge at that point that the city spent $20,000 a year for a police officer to patrol the bridge.
After people began jumping off the bridge, city officials installed mesh fencing and barbed wire to prevent more tragedies. The city installed signs to discourage jumpers in 1993.
City officials have decried the name because they believe it could attract troubled people that are considering suicide.
During her time at City Hall, former Public Information Officer Ann Erdman would clarify the name when she heard people misidentify the bridge.
“When I first started as the Pasadena PIO in 1991, I was instructed to never use the term suicide bridge in any official capacity,” Erdman said. “To this day, I have never called it that.”
One of the most famous cases occurred on May 1, 1937, when Myrtle Ward, a struggling 22-year-old mother who had lost her job in the great depression, wrapped her 3-year old daughter Jean Pykkonen in a thick wool coat and threw her off the bridge before jumping off herself. Ward died, but the thick coat snagged on several tree branches and slowed her daughter’s descent.
The mother died, but the youngster survived.
“It’s a beautiful, iconic bridge,” Derderian said. “Pasadena prides itself on history and the bridge should be known for that instead of the suicides.”