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    Skyway sees wind-blown crash, fatal leap

    Rain and a strong gust of wind are blamed after a Ford Explorer flips approaching the bridge. About two hours later, a man jumps to his death.

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD and WES ALLISON

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- The Sunshine Skyway bridge was the scene of two crises Tuesday as a gust of wind flipped over a sport utility vehicle and a man jumped to his death from the top of the bridge.

    The SUV crashed about 12:15 p.m. on the southbound approach to the Skyway. A strong wind gust was too much for the Ford Explorer's driver, authorities said.

    "Weather was a contributing cause. With the combination of wind and rain, she lost control," said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Bobby Collins.

    The driver -- Jennifer Ege, 42, of Bradenton -- called 911 from her mobile phone after her Explorer ended up on its side. Ege was trapped inside until firefighters removed the front windshield to get her out, said St. Petersburg fire Lt. Chris Bengivengo.

    Ege suffered cuts and bruises. She was treated at Manatee Memorial Hospital and was released. The accident backed up southbound traffic on Interstate 275 for more than an hour.

    Once the wind and rain had cleared up, another crisis occurred.

    About 2:40 p.m., authorities started to get phone calls about a 1999 Dodge van that had been abandoned at the top of the Skyway. Its engine was running, and a door was open.

    As police drove to check it out, the U.S. Coast Guard was contacted by a boater who had seen a body in the channel beneath the bridge, according to Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services.

    A rescue boat found a man's body shortly before 4 p.m., said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. No one saw the man jump. Authorities had not positively identified the body by Tuesday night.

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