The E2 community is no stranger to suicide. Indeed we have lost too many to it. This is an account of a suicide I witnessed in February of 1997.
Downtown Fort Worth, Texas sits on a tall bluff overlooking the Trinity river to its north. North Main Street spans the river with a very long and steeply inclined four lane bridge. On the south end of the bridge before Main St. curves around the old granite county courthouse sits Heritage Park, a haunt for the homeless. At the north end of the bridge is a small industrial area. It is about an eighty foot drop where the bridge actually crosses over the river. This is where I witnessed a man kill himself.
It was a sunny, cold and blustery February afternoon. Bundled up against the cold, I was trudging home in my trusty old pickup after work. I had worked over a little at my job in the Federal Building in downtown and finally was headed home about 17:30. Rush hour was over and traffic in downtown was light. I only lived fifteen minutes away and was in no particular hurry, taking my time.
Driving around the curve by Heritage Park I noticed an orange colored late 70’s, 5-series model BMW. It was about ten car lengths ahead of me on the bridge slowing down with its hazard lights on. We were the only northbound vehicles on the bridge. The southbound traffic on the bridge had already passed us and the next southbound car was a good quarter of a mile away.
When I saw the car I thought to myself This guy must be a real idiot. Why doesn't he just coast on down the bridge where he can pull off and it is safer and not create a traffic hazard. A 30ish, thin black man, the only occupant of the car, got out of the drivers side and walked toward the rear of the car just as I went by.
At this point I came under conviction by the Holy Spirit that this man is my neighbor and I should turn around and see if I can help him. Afterall, I am a trained mechanic driving a truck with a full complement of tools onboard. I look back in my rearview mirror to see this man step up on the sidewalk, take his last steps over to the railing and jump. No hesitation, no reflection, he just jumped, into the icy, dark muddy waters of the Trinity river waiting below.
Oh shit! Oh God! Oh shit! He jumped! Oh no! Oh God!
I was heartsick and shaken at what had just happened. I wiped my eyes with my fist and peered closer into my rearview mirror. I couldn't have seen what I just saw. There sat the driverless car, hazards still flashing.
I was about a hundred yards past where the car was sitting. I raced down the street still checking my rearview mirror in disbelief and horror.The car lot where I had purchased my truck was a few blocks down. I would call 911 from there.
Sliding into the parking lot, I jumped out and hollered at the car lot owner that I needed to use his phone that a man had just jumped off of the bridge. He pointed to the office and I went in and made the call. The 911 dispatcher told me to wait there for the fire department.
The car lot owner, his son and I walked out to the street and looked up the street towards the bridge. The car was there on the bridge. I walked back inside to wait on the fire department. They arrived in about four or five minutes from both directions and asked me to lead them to where the man had jumped from. Jumping back in my truck and leading the way around the block and back onto Main St., the car was no longer there.
I was afraid the fire department and police would not believe me. The police figured that some of the homeless residents of the park had witnessed it also and had helped themselves to the car.
Recounting what I had saw to the fire fighters and two police officers controlling the scene was difficult. I was in a mild state of shock. The fire department dive team came out and set up while motorcycle police went up and down the river banks and a police helicopter swept up and down the river. The police said that it was not unusual to have someone to jump off of the bridge. They said it happened about once a month. Usually the person was just injured and not killed. As cold as it was this person would likely have been injured by the fall and then killed by hypothermia or drowning. They did not find him in an hour long search. It was supposed that he was either stuck in the mud in the river bottom or up against a coffer dam a few hundred yards downriver and at this point it was just a body recovery rather than a rescue.
As more and more fire fighters arrived at the scene I was asked again and again to recount the events to them. They were truly intrigued by what I saw as they usually only show up afterwards to clean up the mess and are not usually witness to such a thing. Most of them walked away shaking their heads and muttering, "He just jumped."
I got home around 19:30 and went over what I had saw with my family. The next morning a homicide detective called me at the office and I gave him a statement as to what I had witnessed.
I watched the newspaper and local news for the next few weeks. There was no report of a suicide or a man missing.