For many, jumping off the Lido Island bridge has long been a local summer rite of passage in Newport Beach.
I know. I did it myself back when I was a kid growing up in this town.
So, I’m guilty, but I think the statue of limitations must have run out by now.
But to others, especially local residents who live in the immediate area of the bridge, it’s a nuisance and safety issue that never seems to go away.
This summer the problem has returned yet again and some local residents say it’s getting worse, likely fueled by video exposure on the Internet. But whatever the reasons, bridge jumpers seem to be flocking from not only Newport Beach but from everywhere else around Southern California.
Officially, jumping off the bridge to the harbor below is illegal, and signs are posted on the bridge to tell any would be jumpers just that. The jumpers must know they are risking not only possible injury in making the leap, but a ticket, and possible fine if they get caught. – or so it would seem.
But it doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent.
The Independent spent time at the bridge this month to see what goes on and how the city and local authorities are responding.
Earlier this month, this reporter watched numerous teens leap from the bridge in little more than hour.
See video of kids jumping from the Lido Island bridge here.
On that day the youths made their jumps in front of a large group of kids from the Sea Base summer camp. The camp makes use of a small beach just under the bridge.
The problem, according to locals, is not just teenagers out to show their mettle, but also adults, even boaters who pull up at the small beach at night and make the leap, sometimes not exactly sober or fully clothed according to one local resident who did not want to be named for this story. That resident said the problem was so bad, that she had decided to move out.
According to residents and Newport Beach police, the problem only seems to go away when summer turns to fall and colder weather cuts the number of jumpers substantially.
This past Wednesday, once again the Independent spent over two hours at the bridge in the late afternoon and watched a steady stream of teenage jumpers make their way to the bridge. This reporter witnessed at least a dozen jumpers take the plunge into the harbor below.
The first was a young teenage couple. Both the young man and his female companion climbed over the rail, but then decided to hop back over to the sidewalk and wait. In less than a minute they both again scaled the low railing and stood on the edge. The girl leaned and hesitated. The boy paused for a moment then leaped. He hit the water and swam to shore unfazed. The girl decided not to jump and scurried back over the railing and down the bridge to meet him at the beach below.
Next up, a young man hurriedly scurried up the bridge and over the side, so quickly this reporter nearly didn’t see him jump. But I was quick enough with my camera to catch him as he fell. He did a swan dive – arms outstretched as he flew off the bridge. His impact with the water was not so gentle it seemed from my vantage point. After swimming to shore, he emerged from the water shaking his left hand as if it was injured.
Next up soon after was a group of three boys. They showed up and surveyed the scene. It was clear by their actions that they were on the lookout for any police or anybody who might want to stop them from taking the plunge. They looked nervous.
They quickly huddled together and decided it was time to go. All three quickly slipped over the side and stood on the edge of the bridge and then jumped. They all hit the water and emerged safely and swam to shore. Then came right back up for a second jump.
I quietly approached them and asked them where they were from and told them I was a reporter doing a story about people jumping from the bridge. They told me they were friends and 7th graders from Huntington Beach.
“Everybody knows about the Lido Bridge” they said, and jumping from it had been part of the plan that day.
The last group of jumpers I witnessed was a group of about six young high school-age boys and girls. All but one made the leap. On their second trip to the bridge’s mid-point to jump I approached them. One of the girls, told me, “I’ve jumped once before.”
When asked if she or any of her friends had ever encountered police or anybody else, she said, “Yeah. I got stopped by the police one time, but they just told me not to do it again.”
When asked if she knew if it was illegal to jump from the bridge she just smiled and said, “Yes.”
The Independent reviewed this past week’s calls-for-service log, available publicly via the Newport Beach Police Department. The records indicate the department received at least 14 calls from residents requesting police respond to jumpers from the bridge.
Police spokeswoman Kathy Lowe told the paper the problem is not a new one, and the PD does it best to try and stem the tide of jumpers.
“Typically during the summer months, calls for service increase for kids jumping off of the Lido Island Bridge. We receive far fewer calls during the rest of the year. The Newport Beach Police Department sends out an advisory at the beginning of the summer to remind residents that this activity is not only dangerous, but illegal. Our patrol officers are aware of this issue and do regular patrol checks to help curb this activity.”
The advisory this year was issued July 17.
But, when asked, Lowe said the NBPD had issued one citation for bridge jumping this summer, on Aug. 12.
The last and largest group of teens the Independent spoke with at the bridge this past Wednesday were from Newport Harbor High, Corona Del Mar High and even one or two from Laguna Beach. So it seems the decades-old summer rite of passage continues.
Whether or not anything has really changed over the years is open to debate. For the jumpers at least, not much has changed as they continue to make the leap. For residents the problem – and the official response – seem to have changed little over the years as well.