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Woman skating on bridge dies from fall

A 51-year-old woman not wearing a helmet fell and hit the back of her head skating down the hump on the old Gandy Bridge.

By KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Thomas Goethe]
People head down the hump of the old Gandy Bridge, now called the Friendship Trail, toward St. Petersburg on Monday.

TAMPA -- At 51, Beverly Ann Folsom was healthy and vigorous. Even so, she labored on inline skates up the hump of the old Gandy Bridge on Saturday morning.

When the Carrollwood resident reached the top, with her wrists protected but her head exposed, Folsom gave her 22-year-old daughter a high-five.

But the trip back down was anything but victorious. Folsom's feet shot out from under her as she sped toward St. Petersburg, and she reeled backward.

Folsom's head smashed onto the pavement and she was immediately knocked unconscious, said her sister-in-law Paulette Garwacki, who heard the account from Folsom's daughter. Flown to Bayfront Medical Center, Folsom lay in a coma about 18 hours.

The Carrollwood resident was pronounced dead about 5:15 p.m. Sunday, her stunned family gathered around her.

"You're not supposed to die when you Rollerblade," Garwacki said Monday after picking out floral arrangements for Folsom's funeral Friday.

"The doctor said the impact was as if her head hit a concrete wall at 50 miles per hour."

It was just more than three months ago that the old Gandy Bridge was rechristened the Friendship Trail and opened to the public for recreation. Apparently, Folsom's fall was the first serious injury along the 2.6-mile stretch.

News of her death saddened but did not surprise Frank Miller, president of Friendship Trail Corp., the new park's fundraising arm. Miller, an early advocate for saving the bridge from demolition after the new Gandy Bridge was built in 1997, said he, too, had been alarmed at the speed skaters gathered as they whizzed down the bridge's slopes.

In fact, Miller raised the hazard during a committee meeting two weeks ago with parks and public works officials from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

"If it were up to me, I would require skaters to wear helmets," Miller said. "I pointed out ... that people don't realize when they're on skates, their lives are in jeopardy. All you have to do is fall backwards and it'll be a very hard smash."

One suggestion was to install handrails along the high portion of the bridge, but officials said that was a danger in itself, according the minutes from the March 2 meeting. Another suggestion was to put up warning signs. Officials are weighing whether to mount fold-down seats near the rise so people can remove their skates.

Garwacki said she wanted to make the public aware of Folsom's abrupt death and the danger of skating without helmets.

"If it helps with just one mom ... " she said, trailing off.

Folsom, a loan consultant for Inland Homes in Tampa, wasn't new to skating though "she wasn't that experienced," Garwacki said.

In an organized race across the bridge a week ago, only one of 50 skaters fell down and hurt herself, Miller said. The woman bruised her hip but refused medical treatment and finished the race, he said.

Folsom and her daughter, who asked that her name not be used in this story, drove to the St. Petersburg side of the bridge so they'd have farther to go to the hump, said family friend Eric Costantino, 29.

At the top, mother and daughter paused to savor their accomplishment. They came back down the same side. That way, they didn't have to climb twice, Costantino said.

Garwacki said the family took some comfort in the fact that Folsom's organs were donated to help someone else, and that her life was taken in a moment of unbridled pleasure.

"When she fell, she was extremely happy," Garwacki said. "She was ecstatic she had gone up the hill."

She is survived by two daughters and husband Ronald Folsom, a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy, Garwacki said.


-- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or wexler@sptimes.com.

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