Returning to Bridge to Pray

"Tell the Alexandria Police Department I will be coming to the bridge," said Ivin Pointer, better known to some commuters as "the Wilson Bridge Jumper."

He'll make the trip Thursday, Pointer said, the first anniversary of the day he threatened to jump from the span and, in the process, tied up the area's transportation system for more than five hours. After police tried repeatedly to talk him out of the jump, they shot him with a non-lethal "beanbag" projectile. At that point, he jumped and was rescued from the Potomac River 50 feet below.

Pointer said he doesn't plan a repeat performance this week and to advise the police that "this time he won't be jumping. He'll be praying."

Pointer, who has apologized publicly for his actions, says his outlook has changed. The bridge incident was "the best thing that ever happened to me" because it helped him "accept Christ in my life," he told a reporter last week.

And he said he's writing a book, "Have You Been to the Bridge?" because "I don't want to see anybody go down the same road I did." Literally, of course, that road was the Capital Beltway, one of the most heavily traveled highways around.

"The bridge symbolizes a problem," said Pointer, 33, of Alexandria, explaining the focus of his book. "We have all gone to the bridge. Some have jumped and died. Some have jumped and lived. Some are still on the bridge. When I stood up on that bridge, it was like saying, 'I want my son.' Period."

He served seven months in jail for assaulting and stalking the mother of his 4-year-old son and for violating a protective order three times. His primary goals now, he says, are getting the court's permission to see his son and finishing his autobiography.

Pointer wasn't charged for the bridge incident, but he said he believes his actions on the bridge were reflected in the 18-month sentence he received for his domestic troubles.

That sentence was handed him after a judge listened to a recording of a telephone message to the mother of his son. In it, Pointer said he was going to take his own life and that "it was going to be a big media event and it was going to involve police."

Pointer is on probation and remains under a protective order banning contact with mother and child. That order was renewed in February, according to police, and will last until February 2001.

Pointer said last week that he has found a job as a computer analyst, become involved in his church and gone back to look at the bridge.

"I just went down and looked at it," he said. "It was scary. But it was also a happy feeling. That's where God took over and said he's going to do some things."

Another Battle Over Land

The next battle over the land once slated to become the massive Chapman's Landing housing development is about to begin, and this time the argument is over whether to use part of the 2,250-acre tract for athletic fields.

Little has changed on the land about 20 miles south of Washington since August 1998, when Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) pledged $25 million to buy most of it.

His action followed a long, loud campaign by environmentalists and others who called the planned 4,600-home development a prime example of harmful sprawl development.

After a year during which his administration said little about the land's ultimate disposition, Glendening released a letter in August saying most of the property should be managed with "a special emphasis on its natural significance."

Conservationists count the tract as uniquely valuable because it includes many acres of uninterrupted forest cover.

There is a fly in their ointment, though. Charles County officials, under pressure to provide soccer and baseball fields for a rapidly increasing youth population, have long said they may wish to see athletic fields on part of the Chapman property. "We think that needs looking at," Murray D. Levy (D), president of the county Board of Commissioners, said in an interview.

Friends of Mount Aventine, a Charles County group that worked for years to preserve the land, says rare plants, birds and other animals benefit greatly from uninterrupted forest. "If you put ball fields in there, it would totally break it up," said Alex Winter, a leader of the group.

Winter's group and the county government each will have one representative on a nine-member committee that is to give advice on using the land, said Gene Piotrowski, the director of resource planning with the state Department of Natural Resources.

The panel's other members are to be a state legislator; a representative of the government of Indian Head, a town near the tract; and five other Charles County residents. The panel's first meeting could be next month, Piotrowski said. He said a recommendation to Glendening should emerge by spring, after a public hearing.