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Web site lampoons Skyway jumpers

A Largo man makes light of suicide, to the horror of counselors and those grieving.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


When Internet surfers enter the "Skyway Bridge Jumper" site, they hear a splash.

Then they can guess everything from the date and time of the next jumper to whether he or she will hit water, rocks or a boat.

The site, created by a Largo resident, also lists "jumper news," parodies of songs and names of jumper pool winners.

"It's not for everybody," said creator Mike Straub, 46. "Maybe in another country I'd be banned, but I'm allowed to express myself in this sick, depraved way."

His handiwork has drawn the ire of suicide prevention counselors, particularly since a Gulfport woman logged on to the site days before she plunged from the Sunshine Skyway bridge on April 17.

"It certainly can't be helpful to someone who is suicidal," said Rene Barrett, head of Florida's division of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "When someone is suicidal, they're in a dark hole, a pit they cannot get out of."

So far this year, two people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge, which links Pinellas and Manatee counties. Last year, 11 people jumped.

A stained-glass artist, Straub is fascinated by the Sunshine Skyway bridge. He developed the site in 1998 after visiting a similar site for people who can guess which celebrities will die in the months ahead.

More than 900 guesses have been made on the pool site, but no one wins anything, Straub says. He does not know how many people have logged on because he does not have a counter tracking traffic.

Straub said his creation is dark humor, his way of coping with death. He does not promote suicide, he said, pointing out that a link to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is on his site.

"No matter what you read here," the Web page states, "please do not jump off the bridge."

He also offers links to news radio 970 WFLA and the St. Petersburg Times. Such links are not necessarily endorsements of a particular Web page theme, said Ron Dupont, general manager of Web Publishing at the Times.

"The way the Internet works is anybody can create a link to anybody else's Web site," Dupont said.

According to some family members and a posting on the jumper Web page, Gulfport resident Dalana Davis visited the jumper site.

Days later, she parked her car on the Skyway and jumped. Her body was found six days later by fishermen.

Mrs. Davis, 40, had just been fired from her job for poor attendance, said her husband, Art Davis. She was battling depression and was taking Lithium and Prozac for the condition, he said.

Anita Hankins, her sister-in-law, said Mrs. Davis mentioned visiting the jumper Web site and knew intricate details about the bridge. Art Davis said Tuesday that he does not know whether his wife went to the jumper site but searched her computer for evidence and came up empty.

"This is really throwing me for a loop," her husband said.

After the suicide, some family members visited the jumper site, heard the splash sound effect and found it offensive.

"That just hurt us real bad," said Hankins, the sister-in-law who lives in Wichita, Kan. "Our hearts went clear down to our feet."

In addition to the splash, browsers can scroll through at least seven pages of "jumper pool guesser comments."

A Bradenton man offered a parody of a Frank Sinatra tune: "I took my knocks/I hit the rocks/I did it ... SKYWAY."

An Ontario man wrote: "Sick, sick, sick -- so sick I'm sending my paranoid colleagues the link to this page."

A Lakeland man said: "I'll be anchored at Egmont with my binocs in one hand and a frosty cold one in the other."

These comments are not funny to people who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Consider Joan Fine, board secretary of the Florida division of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She also runs a support group in Coral Gables.

"It's one of the most unfunny things I ever heard, considering my son committed suicide," she said. "I have goose pimples about this whole thing. It's really grim."

Straub says he wants people having trouble with life to get help, not cop out. "If somebody actually jumped off that bridge because of my site, I'll pull it," he said.

Critics say Straub does not understand the horror and guilt of losing someone to suicide.

But Straub says his distant cousin killed himself by jumping off a bridge in Germany and another cousin "attempted suicide with poison mushrooms."

"I don't want people jumping off this bridge," Straub said. "But if they do, I'm going to make light of it."

Why?

"Because I can," he said. "It's that simple. If people don't like the Web site, they can put it away."

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