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    Man rescued after jump from Skyway


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 20, 2001

    ST. PETERSBURG -- A distraught man jumped off the Sunshine Skyway late Sunday, shunning the efforts of rescuers trying to talk him down.

    Rescuers managed to save him nevertheless, quickly plucking him from the water.

    He became only the sixth or seventh person to survive a jump since the bridge opened in 1987.

    That rescuers were nearby was fortuitous, said Gerard Chalmers, a district chief for St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue.

    He said he had just made a U-turn on the Manatee County side of the bridge after a call about an unattended motorcycle and a man using one of the crisis phones on the bridge.

    Chalmers noticed a car parked along the shoulder of the bridge. He thought it was someone catching the sunset but that he better check to see if there was car trouble.

    Suddenly, the driver accelerated his car forward. With Chalmers following behind in his sport utility vehicle, the car swerved several times over to the shoulder, then back on the road.

    Then the driver, whom he identified as Steven Ray Wood, 26, pulled over sharply, jumped out and ran to the edge of the bridge and threw a leg over the side. Then he returned to the road, ran to the other side and again flung a leg over the side.

    At first, Chalmers didn't know if the guy was fooling. But he radioed dispatch. A St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue marine rescue crew had decided after the unsubstantiated call to perform a training session. So the boat was on the scene almost immediately, but out of view of the possible jumper.

    As Wood climbed up and stood on the rail, Chalmers and other emergency workers tried to talk him down.

    "You don't really want to do this," Chalmers remembers telling him. "It will be extremely painful. It's not the way to die. "He said he had some girlfriend troubles," Chalmers said. "He was quite upset."

    And then he stepped off the ledge.

    Wood had been standing directly over rocks at the south end of the shipping channel, so Chalmers figured he was done for. But as the man fell, the wind resistance and his body position began to carry him north, away from the rocks.

    Wood splashed into the water on his back. It was so shallow, Chalmers said, that the splash revealed rocks below.

    Though a pool of blood formed around Wood, Chalmers could see him moving. He radioed for the boat to move in, and within a minute, Wood was in the boat. A helicopter transported him to Bayfront Medical Center. A hospital spokesperson listed him in serious condition.

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