Surprising to Knowlton was how down in the dumps he became in the aftermath of his good deed. “It took me a good two or three days to get over some depression. You think you wouldn’t be depressed, but I kept playing everything over again in my mind, and it was working me down and down to a point that I couldn’t even talk about it. But, finally, it’s starting to feel a little better. At least I saved someone’s life, and I should feel good about it. It took a few days for that to sink in. And I just hope that what the lady went through was just a cry for help that she’s over now.”
Knowlton has conflicting thoughts about nobody stopping to help as he talked to the woman on the bridge, whose name has not been released. “When she wasn’t looking, I signaled people driving by to help, and I’m sure lots of people called the police,” he tells me, “but it is surprising that nobody got out to help. I mean, why was there this big-ass bottle of wine sitting on the hood of her car and she was swigging at it like she wanted to get trashed?
“I think only a small percentage of people will get involved in something like that. If the lady had panicked and jumped when I was first walking up to her, that would have changed my life forever. And maybe other people driving by were afraid of the same thing. After a few days had passed, I talked to a number of my friends who said they’d have been reluctant to get involved, too. So I’ve eased up on my judgment of the way most people react.”
How high are the odds that ordinary citizens will ever witness someone try to jump from the Coronado Bay Bridge — or any other suicide attempt? As of May 1, 2008, according to a Voice of San Diego article from the same date, there had been 233 suicides from the bridge. Ashley Hatton posted a comment to the article, asking people to contact her “if you have witnessed a stranger’s suicide and are willing to share your experience.” Hatton is a candidate for the doctorate of psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology. I reached her by phone in Massachusetts.
“I put a similar request for information on Craigslist,” she told me, “and I got about 30 people to respond with their stories.” (Hatton is incorporating the anecdotes into her dissertation, which in large part is an effort to shine light on what people experience who witness suicides.) “So that tells me that witnessing suicides might happen more often than we think,” she said.