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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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The Skyway fiasco
A Times Editorial
Published July 9, 2004
Though it sounds good to blame safety concerns, Tuesday's massive backup on the Sunshine Skyway bridge might have been avoided if authorities had better coordinated their response to a man threatening to jump. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office closed most traffic on the bridge during the evening rush-hour drive as deputies talked the man off a southbound ledge. Thousands of motorists were stuck for hours, and while safety must come first, closing the bridge for so long poses its own safety concerns.
Tuesday's problem shows the problem of having multiple law enforcement agencies share jurisdiction over the bridge. While the roadway connects Pinellas and Manatee counties, Hillsborough controls the center of the span because the shipping channel underneath it resides in Hillsborough County. To confuse things even more, the Florida Highway Patrol assigns a trooper to the bridge 24-hours a day. Troopers typically are the first to respond to would-be jumpers, while Hillsborough dispatches negotiators or larger emergency management teams.
Given the bridge's long history as a place for jumps and the convoluted jurisdictional lines that could affect a life-or-death response, the various agencies should have unified their game plan by now for securing this high-traffic bridge. Hillsborough sheriff's officials at their Tampa headquarters decided Tuesday to close all southbound lanes and one northbound lane on the bridge. A sheriff's spokesman said Wednesday the move was designed to lessen noise on the bridge, thereby allowing officers to hear and speak to the man threatening to jump. No cars on the bridge guaranteed the man would not break and run into traffic. The FHP wanted to keep the bridge open, as it has done dozens of times in recent years while talking down a jumper. But troopers deferred to the Sheriff's Office.
While each case is different, keeping one lane of traffic open in each direction does not seem unreasonable. Certainly the presence of a half-dozen police vehicles, their lights flashing in the closed lane, would slow down traffic on the bridge enough to create a safe environment for police and distressed persons. Additional officers could be called to direct traffic and stop the flow if a person tries to bolt before a car. The bridge, as a contained roadway, makes it hard for a would-be jumper to flee and elude police.
Keeping traffic flowing would also keep motorists from reacting to the frustration by taking illegal and dangerous steps to break from the logjam. Thousands of motorists were stranded Tuesday in miles-long traffic jams. Many of them, no doubt, were worried about personal obligations or the need to contact friends, employers and family. This "fiasco," as the FHP called it, should spur a review of procedures. The various law enforcement agencies should be agreeing beforehand on the script to follow during such incidents.