Man jumps to his death from a building in Mercer Island

The 57-year-old man who jumped to his death on Jan. 2 from a building on S.E. 27th Avenue is the first person to do so on the Island in a very, very long time, but his is not entirely an isolated case of suicide, said Commander Leslie Burns with the Mercer Island Police Department.

Burns said the department responds to approximately 20 calls a year when someone is threatening to commit suicide. The calls usually come in from concerned family members. She said a half dozen or so of those individuals carry it out. There were a total of 253 suicides in King County in 2009, up from 210 in 2008.

The recent death was a very public one unlike most suicides.

Burns said most suicides on the Island take place in the individual's home. More males than females kill themselves. Men tend to use a more violent method such as hanging themselves, using a firearm or jumping, and women tend to overdose on drugs.

The East Channel bridge is a magnet for some.

"Some jump off the East channel bridge for the thrill of it, but some do it to kill themselves," she said.

The thrill seekers who jump off the East Channel bridge are usually kids who don't know any better or are unaware of the fact that rebar is poking up in the water under that bridge, a hazard that could easily kill jumpers if the fall doesn't.

According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program's Web site, an average of two young people die by suicide and another 17 suicide attempts result in hospitalization each week in Washington state. In 2005 three Eastside youths committed suicide within weeks of each other, including a 17-year-old Mercer Island High School student.

Sue Eastgard, executive director of YSPP, said she hasn't had any calls recently of any kids acting on or threatening suicide on Mercer Island — not since that 2005 tragedy.

"Most suicidal kids have some underlying mental issue, whether it's depression or drug abuse," Eastgard said. "Then, some sort of a trigger sets them off, such as an argument or break up."

In February 2010, a Mercer Island resident shot himself after beating his girlfriend outside her workplace in Bellevue. Then, in March 2010, an Island man drove his car into Lake Washington at Calkins Landing; the incident was ruled to be a suicide.

Nonetheless, Burns said there is no one trouble spot on Mercer Island like the notorious Aurora Bridge in Seattle. Officially named the George Washington Memorial Bridge, it has the dubious honor of being the second most often used bridge for suicide in the United States behind San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

The Aurora Bridge crosses the west end of Lake Union, but more than half of it is over land, causing trauma for people in nearby office buildings who have witnessed falling bodies. The Washington Department of Transportation is in the process now of installing a barrier fence on Aurora Bridge to deter suicide jumpers.

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