golden gate bridge suicide may 11, 2004 : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

just wondering if any one has information regarding the suicide death of gene romal allen sprague...he jumped from the golden gate bridge may 11, 2004 at approximately 2pm. i have searched and searched and can find no obituary or news article on the matter. any information would be appreciated as it will help me to have cloure in this matter. jane*

-- jane green (, January 26, 2005


Yes, you're in luck. Gene Romal Allen Sprague's jump was recorded on film. For the first time in the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, all jumpers of 2004 were recorded on film. You can actually get to see him make his last swan dive. The San Francisco Chronicle reported this story on January 19:

Golden Gate Bridge officials are seething that a moviemaker who told them he was working on a "day in the life" project about the landmark was, in fact, capturing people on film as they jumped to their deaths.

Eric Steel initially told officials he planned to spend a year filming the "powerful and spectacular interaction between the monument and nature" and that his work was to be the first in a series of documentaries about national monuments such as the St. Louis Arch and the Statue of Liberty. That's how he got the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's permission to set up cameras on parkland overlooking Fort Point.

Now, however, Steel has revealed in an e-mail to bridge officials that the cameras -- which were operating almost continuously during daylight hours for all of 2004 -- filmed most of the 19 jumpers who went off the bridge last year plus a number of attempted suicides.

Apparently, that was the point all along. Steel says his goal is to "allow us to see into the most impenetrable corners of the human mind and challenge us to think and talk about suicide in profoundly different ways."

"Are we angry? Absolutely,'' said bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie.

"A guy this duplicitous -- there must be a way to yank that stuff away from him,'' said Marin County Supervisor Hal Brown, a member of the bridge district's board. "It's just a horrible thing to be taking pictures of."

"It's creepy," agreed San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, also a member of the district board. "Whatever the intention of the film, you can't help but think of a snuff film."

Golden Gate National Recreation Area spokesman Rich Weideman, whose agency issued the permit for Steel to set up his cameras, said officials "would likely have taken a second and stronger look'' if they'd known the filmmaker's true intent.

Still, Weideman said, free-speech guidelines don't leave a lot of room for federal officials to question content.

Bridge district officials, who had nothing to do with issuing the permit, already were suspicious before Steel broke the news.

"He had all this sophisticated equipment, and it was all focused mid span, so it was pretty clear what he was really up to,'' said one bridge worker who visited the camera site and asked not to be named.

Then last week came the e-mail from Steel telling bridge officials what the movie was really about and asking permission to interview bridge workers and brass about the suicides.

"My crew and I spent an entire year looking very carefully at the Golden Gate Bridge, running cameras for almost every daylight minute,'' Steel wrote. "We observed and filmed most of the two dozen or so suicides and a great many of the unrealized attempts.

"I'm not sure if you are aware of this,'' he added, "but on several occasions during the year, my crew and I were the first callers to the bridge patrol offices when we saw these events begin to unfold."

Steel also flew around the country logging nearly a hundred hours of interviews with jumpers' families, friends, witnesses, medical and psychiatric professionals and several attempted jumpers.

"It is a movie about the human spirit in crisis. It is a movie about people," Steel wrote.

"My intent is to make an independent, feature-length film that I can show at a major film festival," he added. "Beyond that, I have no distribution plans -- only hopes.''

Marin County Supervisor and bridge board member Cynthia Murray said it is both fascinating and tragic that the bridge continues to be a magnet for suicides, and she worries about the effects Steel's movie might have.

"This could unfortunately add to people's interest to use the bridge as a final step," she said. "It seems the more you talk about this, the more there's a chance of copycat (suicides), and that would be extremely unfortunate if that was the case with this movie."

Both Murray and Ammiano said they favor taking another look at installing a suicide barrier.

Steel declined Tuesday to talk about the film or his tactics, saying he was in the middle of negotiations with bridge authorities for their cooperation.

Suffice it to say that at this point, officials don't appear to be ready for their close-ups -- especially now that they feel that Steel misrepresented what he was doing.

Still, "we are a public facility," bridge spokeswoman Currie said. "So his request will be handled accordingly. But now there's the question of what else might he be misrepresenting.''

"What else did he film?'' added board member Brown. "The underside of the bridge? The security patrols?"

-- Harry Murphy (Harrymurphy*, January 28, 2005.

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