A 56-year-old Santa Barbara man committed suicide yesterday by jumping off the Cold Springs Bridge near San Marcos Pass on Highway 154. His death is the fourth suicide at the bridge this year alone and raises the number of lives taken at the site to 47 since it opened in 1963.
Barry Langberg, a Santa Barbara resident with non-active ties to a local mental health organization, the Glendon Association, was driving to work yesterday morning when he witnessed the now-deceased walk to the edge of the bridge and fall over to his death.
“I saw an SUV stopped right in the middle of the bridge, and at the same time, I saw somebody walking a few steps along the so-called railing,” Langberg said. “I didn’t even have time to get out of my car; the person just went over, and there’s no barrier there and you don’t have to climb up anything or even jump; you simply fall over.
“I’ve done and seen a lot of things in my life – I was a cop for a few years – and this is probably the worst thing I have [ever] seen. If I was there 30 seconds sooner, I could have tried to do something, but it was just so quick,” he said.
This most recent suicide at the Cold Springs Bridge has added fodder to an already heated debate concerning suicide prevention measures on the bridge, which is the number-one location to commit suicide in the county.
In a statement released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept., Sheriff Bill Brown expressed his condolences while also arguing for physical barriers on the bridge.
“We extend our sympathy to the family of the victim,” Brown said. “This latest incident underscores once again the need for a barrier on Cold Springs Bridge to safeguard the lives of citizens and first responders alike.”
The California Dept. of Transportation, or Caltrans, has jurisdiction over the Cold Springs Bridge and has submitted a proposal to build physical suicide- prevention barriers to help deter would-be jumpers. The proposal has the support of both the sheriff’s department and the Glendon Association — which assisted Caltrans in drafting the proposal — as well as several other organizations.
“Building barriers on the Cold Spring Bridge is a safety project that will reduce deaths at the Cold Springs Bridge, which is currently the most lethal spot of road in five counties,” Lisa Firestone, director of Education and Research at the Glendon Association, said. “There is no singular safety project that will save more lives in our community.”
However, there are some in the Santa Barbara community — including a few individuals associated with UCSB — who have argued that prevention barriers do not necessarily save lives, and have asked Caltrans to consider alternatives to building the costly physical barriers.
Marc McGinnes is a retired UCSB environmental studies professor and a member of the citizen-run activist group Friends of the Bridge. Through this organization — which is concerned solely with preserving the aesthetic and historic attributes of the Cold Springs Bridge – McGinnes has actively fought against the installation of preventative barriers.
“We’ve presented information that [Caltrans] reports are flawed, and that barriers don’t save lives,” McGinnes said in an interview this May. “We continue to call upon Caltrans to abandon this flawed barriers proposal and pursue the alternatives.”
The alternative proposed by McGinnes would have cameras and call boxes installed on the bridge, in addition to a speaker box that would emit a voice designed to console the troubled individual.
According to McGinnes, his alternative would carry with it a much smaller price tag compared to the estimated $3.3 million needed to build the physical barriers.
Langberg, the man who witnessed the 56-year-old man take his own life, balked at the idea of call boxes.
“No camera or call box would have stopped him, so what good would a fucking camera have done?” Langberg said. “Nothing would have stopped him; it took 20 seconds. Why spend the money?”
Langberg, who stressed he did not know the best solution and was not in a position to decide anything, said that the image of someone taking their own life was one he would not soon forget.
“It’s a human being going over,” he said. “It’s ending life. It’s a shock to see someone do that. It is hard to relate to it, but you can’t forget it. I can’t get the scene out of my head.”