Three apparent suicides have taken place in the last 10 days off the Calvert Street bridge, the site of a neighborhood controversy and court suits this year over proposed suicide prevention fences, according to District homicide detectives and city officials.
A woman thought to be in her twenties fell to her death from the bridge yesterday morning, officials said, but D.C. police and the D.C. medical examiner's office had not identified her as of late yesterday.
A 38-year-old Silver Spring man died Thursday night after a fall from the bridge, officially known as the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, and a 36-year-old District man died after a fall there Nov. 27.
Homicide detectives said they do not have an official ruling yet from the medical examiner's office on whether the deaths were suicides but that they believe all three persons jumped to their deaths. The bridge rises about 125 feet above Rock Creek Park on Calvert Street NW near Connecticut Avenue NW and has long been a prime location for suicides in the District.
"Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is jumper season, and the Calvert Street bridge is the place," said one police officer.
After the suicide of their daughter Missy, 24, at the bridge six years ago, Anne and Benjamin H. Read started a campaign to erect iron picket fences at the Calvert Street bridge and the William Howard Taft Bridge that spans Rock Creek Park on Connecticut Avenue.
City officials decided to spend $160,000, most of it in federal funds, to install the eight-foot-high fences in an attempt to prevent suicides there.
Work was stopped, however, when the National Trust for Historic Preservation and seven local civic groups filed suit in federal court in August to block construction. The groups said the fences would spoil the view from the bridge, and community opponents of the plan said the fences would not prevent suicidal persons from killing themselves.
On Sept. 20, U.S. District Court Judge Stanley S. Harris ruled that construction could continue until final rulings in the suit had been made.
Benjamin Read, undersecretary of State during the Carter administration, said yesterday that no work has been done since then, however, and that there now is fencing at both ends of the span but nothing in the middle. He called the recent deaths "a direct result of political hesitancy to do something," saying that Mayor Marion Barry failed to move forward with the work when he could have.
City officials could not be reached yesterday for comment.