Featured Santa Barbara News Press

Golden Gate bridge jumper now spreads message of hope

John Kevin Hines survived his leap off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000.

The moment he leapt off the Golden Gate Bridge, John Kevin Hines regretted the decision.

John Kevin Hines survived his leap off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS
John Kevin Hines survived his leap off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS

So, during his four seconds of free fall on Sept. 25, 2000, with the wind roaring in his ears, the 19-year-old San Francisco City College student threw back his head.

When he knifed into the bay below, Mr. Hines felt an explosion in his gut — like shrapnel, his ribs had splintered into his organs. His limbs moved like jellyfish in the frigid shock of the saltwater. Witnesses swear they saw a sea lion keep him afloat during some of the 22 minutes it took for rescue crews to get to him.

Somehow, that day he became the 26th person to survive a suicidal plunge off the 220-foot-high span since it opened in 1937; at least 1,300 others have perished.

Now an unabashed lover of life, Mr. Hines, 25, has made a mission of reaching out to other suicidal people and their loved ones, and he’s speaking in Santa Barbara next week. His message is that suicidal people don’t truly want to die — they want someone to care, and can sometimes be saved by being asked the simple question, “Is everything OK?”

It’s a question none of the several people who walked past him that day on the bridge bothered to ask.

“I really mean it, I’m just glad for every second of every day after Sept. 25, 2000,” said Mr. Hines, who now works as an activities director at School of the Arts high school in San Francisco. “Hell, it was fun recouping in the hospital.”

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, he will be among a panel of speakers at a free forum on suicide prevention at San Marcos High School, which lost a student of its own to suicide last year. In July 2005, Andrew Popp became the 42nd person to jump off the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge on Highway 154.

Another person has since died jumping off the 420-foot-high bridge.

Unlike the Golden Gate, no one has survived a leap off the majestic Cold Spring monument, which was built in 1963 and crosses thorny brush and jagged rock. On average, one person dies every year jumping from the structure. The quarter-mile span is considered one of the highest concentrated spots for deaths — suicides or otherwise — in a five-county swath from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, according to Caltrans officials.

Wednesday’s forum is hosted by the Glendon Association, a nonprofit group that provides educational services on topics such as suicide, violence, strained relationships and child abuse. The forum’s purpose has always been to reach out to anyone concerned about the issue of suicide.

But the 12th annual talk seems particularly timely because, in the minds of many local professionals, a spate of jumps and attempts last year was the last straw.

In the spring, a coalition that included sheriff’s deputies, highway officials, the Glendon Association and 3rd District County Supervisor Brooks Firestone started appealing to the general public for taking action to prevent suicides from the bridge. Most notable was the idea to erect a barrier fence at least 6 feet tall.

The group, with its detailed presentations and multiple experts on hand at two town-hall forums, appeared steeled for a public debate. After all, the battle over whether to alter the Golden Gate Bridge has raged for quite some time, with opponents of suicide barriers saying where there’s a will, there’s a way for suicidal people, and that trying to save them is not worth the price of altering an architectural wonder.

It’s a notion that Glendon research and education director Lisa Firestone — who is not related to Mr. Firestone — has been ready to combat, armed with a career’s worth of statistics.

But so far, the local group, called the Cold Spring Arch Bridge Suicide Prevention Committee, hasn’t heard so much as a half-hearted counterargument. Even leaders of local historical preservation groups admit that something needs to be done.

“It was a little surprising,” said Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones, “but I think to the community’s credit they looked at the safety aspects first.”

As a result, Caltrans last week quietly moved forward with the project; officials say the barrier will be up in about two years.

Meanwhile, Dr. Firestone, a clinical psychologist, often notes that when barriers go up, suicide rates not only diminish on the bridges, but go down in the surrounding community. Likewise, in England, when they started using a less lethal brand of gas in the ovens, the grisly practice of committing suicide by sticking one’s head in the oven dramatically decreased, she said.

“When you restrict the means for suicide, the rates go down,” Dr. Firestone said. “It also sends the message to the community that we care and don’t want people doing this.”

Mr. Hines agrees. He has met No. 27 and No. 28 — the two other people who survived a drop from the Golden Gate after him. Both felt that same pang of regret as soon as they let go of the railing, he said. To him, it’s evidence that suicide attempts are spontaneous acts not often repeated after failure.

To accentuate the point, he goes back to the day he tried to end his life. During his bus ride to the reddish-orange-colored symbol of San Francisco, Mr. Hines wept, hoping somebody would ask him what was wrong. When he arrived, he paced along the pedestrian sidewalk, still “bawling like a little baby,” hoping someone would intervene. Cars drove by. Tourists walked past. Two police officers on bicycles, whose job it was to keep an eye out for jumpers, pedaled past him.

Then, “a beautiful woman comes up to me,” he said. “Blond, curly hair. Big glasses. European accent. She said, ‘Will you take my picture?’ ”

He did, saying to himself, “Nobody cares.”

As the woman walked away, Mr. Hines backed up to get a running start. He took a leap over the low railing, the bridge so high above the harsh waters of San Francisco Bay that helicopters regularly fly beneath it with ease.

When he jumped, he heard a gasp from someone on the bridge. As the seconds ticked by, the only sound was the wind in his ears.


If you or someone you know is suicidal, call the Family Service Agency 211 Helpline or the Santa Barbara Mental Health Access Team at 888-868-1649

Colorful Characters Featured Other Freelance

Prostitution Vigilante Van Cruises Minneapolis Neighborhoods Looking for Johns

(Note: This was a story that was published on Aug. 7, 1999 in The Alley, a monthly newspaper covering the Lake Street area, an impoverished section of Minneapolis.)


Linda Kolkind isn’t afraid of the riff raff near her house on 12th and Lake, and she refuses to be cooped up inside because of it.

“This is where I live. I can have a garden if I so please.”

Highlighted with benches and a pool with goldfish, her award-winning garden blossoms with tulips, daffodils, and irises every spring. All this stands in stark contrast to the chain-link fence surrounding the garden, the Lake Street neighborhood surrounding the chain-link fence, and the menacing sign slapped against her stucco-walled house: Beware of Dog.

But her defiantly sown garden isn’t the half of it.

Kolkind sits in the driver’s seat of a rusty van parked in the street adjacent to her home. The van’s side, rear, and hood are spray-painted with graffiti. “Prostitution: the world’s oldest oppression,” “Real men don’t have to pay,” and “Down with Johns!” are some of the spray-painted messages. Kolkind, the owner of the van and founder of the Southside Prostitution Task Force, is evidently amused by the attention the van attracts.

She grins, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Quite the van, huh! It’s a moving billboard. Volunteers did the artwork. The thing’s literally held together with duct tape. It breaks down every other day.”

The Southside Prostitution Task Force – founded in 1992 – consists of about 20 members. Its primary focus is to work in conjunction with larger organizations like Pride and Restoration Justice, which provide rehab for prostitutes. Unlike the larger organizations, the Southside Prostitution Task Force takes a grass-roots, on-the-street approach.

“Most organizations want larger numbers – they don’t like to do this one person at a time. We will. Because we, being residents of this area, have been violated one person at a time,” she says.

In addition, the task force attempts to suffocate the prostitution business by hampering the demand side.

She tells me to get ready to witness the harassment of some johns. I get into the van, and she starts it up.

As we troll slowly down Lake Street, people walking on the sidewalk turn their heads toward the eyesore of a vehicle. Since it’s the middle of the afternoon, the van is especially visible. Some people frown. Others smile and shake their heads. One man at a bus stop gives us the thumbs up. Another man, smoking a cigarette and talking to a woman on a street corner, stops talking to the woman to look at the van. He holds his hands up and follows the van a few paces, strutting, as if to say, “Lay off!” or, “Wanna make something of it?”

“That guy’s what they call an entrepreneur,” she explains. “She wants drugs and money. He has both, so he gives her both, in exchange for sex.”

Designed to be visually upsetting to men that are interested in soliciting sex, the van’s graffiti has a tactical purpose.

“Prostitution thrives on the fact that these men think they’re anonymous. With this van, we try to undermine that by letting johns know they’re being watched.”

In the future, Kolkind wants to watch the johns more intensely. Her vision includes a new van equipped with a laptop, so she can immediately send the license plate numbers of johns to the DMV. That way, the DMV can immediately send her the addresses of the johns, so she can “spook them out a little bit.”

“For instance, we thought it would be nice to go have lunch inside the van right outside a john’s house and not say a word. And people will say, ‘why is that van here?’”

Seven years ago, Linda Kolkind considered herself a passive neighborhood victim of prostitution. Back then, prostitutes and their customers were no less visible than the Powderhorn and Phillips stores, houses, and bars on whose property they did business.

“Not only were they lingering around our neighborhood, they were having sex in our driveways.”

During this period, Kolkind, a mother, wife, and collector for a bank, laid blame upon the women who sauntered in her neighborhood. Then, a murder completely changed her outlook.

“There was a certain woman who was always hanging around here. She was maybe 40. Always getting into and out of people’s cars with various men late at night. I would scream and yell at her, and she would scream and yell back.”

The bitter feud lasted over six months but ended abruptly.

On September 23, 1992, a team of squad cars pulled into the parking lot of a dry cleaning store across the street from her house. Inside the building, someone had found a naked woman’s body stuffed into a stairwell. She had been stabbed repeatedly. That night, after talking to some neighbors, Kolkind learned the name of her rival for the first time: Linda Marie Priebe, the victim.

“My life was absolutely turned inside out because of it,” she said.

After Kolkind went to the funeral, she realized something had to be done.

“Many people tell me they go through all kinds of measures to ‘get the whores’ off the property. They swear at them, they throw eggs and stones at them. And now, I tell them, ‘it’s fine to act out, but you gotta find the right targets.’”

The targets, she says, are the males who can typically best afford the tricks. Most of these men, she says, are white and drive in from the suburbs. This is especially the case with establishments known as saunas.

Six months after the death of Priebe, Kolkind attended a neighborhood meeting dedicated to the closing down of a sauna in Powderhorn called A-Spa. “I had a lot to say at the meeting, because, after what I’d seen, I thought that I knew a lot about prostitution.”

This being the case, the meeting inspired Kolkind to start and lead the Southside Prostitution Task Force, which was solely devised to run the neighborhood sauna out of business.

“I thought this would be easy – thought it wouldn’t take us more than six months. But the police were less than enthusiastic until we let them know we were persistent.”

Two years later, Kolkind and the task force persuaded the police to investigate and charge Susie Kotts, the owner of the A-Spa.

Since then, Kolkind has quit her job, purchased a van, closed down six other saunas, and profoundly cleaned up Lake Street and the surrounding areas. At the same time, the former A-Spa is now back in business in the alley by the intersection of Lake Street and 17th Avenue. The sign by the door now reads “Healing Arts Spa.” The only vehicle in the parking lot is a new looking minivan.

“You really don’t see beaters in the parking lots of these places,” she says.

To reiterate her point, she drives the van to another sauna called the Delux Spa. The van stops next to the Spa’s parking lot.

“There’s the Johnnies,” she chuckles, nodding towards the cars in the lot. The small lot actually seems more like a large driveway. The five vehicles in the lot have taken the only five available spots. None of the cars looks more than two years old.

“We’ll toy with them a little – make ‘em squirm.”

She parks the van right in the front and points to the neon-green “open” sign.

“See that? In a couple of minutes, the light will turn off,” she predicts. Kolkind speculates that this is because there is some sort of agreement between the owner of the spa and the owner of the auto body shop across the street, as the Spa has no windows.

Suddenly Kolkind fumbles around for a notepad. “There’s one right now!”

An elderly white man exits the spa, looking both ways before stepping onto the sidewalk like a kid looks both ways to cross the street. He spots the van, looks at the ground, and limps towards his white car, parked right in front of the van. Linda pushes up her glasses while jotting down his license plate, which has a handicapped sign on it.

“Older white male, possibly 60 to 65. Short and bald. Nice car – Whittaker Buick.” While writing, she shakes her head. “It’s all about classism, racism, the haves and the have-nots.”

She finishes jotting down the information as he drives away.

“In a few days, he’ll receive a message from the police saying he was spotted by the spa. I sure hope his wife does not read his mail!” said Kolkind.

Naturally, such zealous behavior has awarded her some enemies. Once, a man banged on the window of the van while at a stoplight, threatening to “take her out.”

“Before we really cleaned up the area last summer, I was scared. But now they’ve moved to the Bloomington (Avenue) area. They’re like cockroaches – they go to where it is dark. So now (their anger) has settled to a quiet rage.”

Kolkind’s own intolerance has done no such thing. Until the Prostitution Task Force rids the area of its last john, it seems clear Kolkind’s own rage will remain loud and quite visible.

Roseburg News-Review / Seattle Times

PARAMEDICS: A Life in Paradox

(Note: This story appeared in the Life section of The News-Review in Roseburg, Oregon.)

Keeping their distance: A man who was hit with a shovel asks to finish his cigarette before allowing paramedics Scott Page, right, and Dave Burr, left, to examine the injury. The injured man had possible nerve damage to the elbow.
Keeping their distance: A man who was hit with a shovel asks to finish his cigarette before allowing paramedics Scott Page, right, and Dave Burr, left, to examine the injury. The injured man had possible nerve damage to the elbow.

Photos by Andy Bronson

April 9, 2000

It’s getting late – around 9 o’clock – and W.E.S.T. Ambulance paramedics Phil Feland and Greg Hickey have been watching television for hours. After finishing “Frazier,” Hickey flips through the channels and stops at the “O’Reilly Factor,” a news analysis show on Fox.

This show tends to bore 48-year-old Feland, but he’s not picky.

“I don’t really care what we watch,” he says. “I just glare at the TV and let the others channel surf.”

Meanwhile, across town, in the Mill-Pine Historic District, a woman finds her half-conscious friend trying to stand, using the kitchen wall as a crutch. One hand grips his chest, the other an empty pint of gin.

“Mike,” she says. “Are you okay?”

Mike, who has overdosed on heroin, nods clumsily and slumps to the ground. Wasting no time, the woman phones 911.

“911 medical alert,” the volume of the dispatcher’s voice overpowers that of the W.E.S.T. headquarter’s TV, on which O’Reilly is reading his own hate mail. Hickey turns down the TV volume. Somehow, the dispatch message gets muddled, and the paramedics at W.E.S.T. receive an inaccurate description of the situation – a common occurrence caused by panicky callers, who can be difficult to understand.

“Seventy-year-old male on Houck Avenue. Having chest pains, difficulty breathing, is blue in the face. Possible stroke victim.”

Without a word, Hickey and Feland put on their shoes, check the city map on the wall and climb into the ambulance, leaving the TV on.

Hickey, who’s 43, takes the wheel; Feland, who sports a tattoo on his forearm, gets into the passenger seat and slips his hands into blue rubber gloves. They leave the garage, fire up the sirens and speed down Garden Valley Boulevard, casually conversing all the while.

Unfazed by the train that holds them up for several minutes on Mosher Avenue, their casual conversation continues.

Despite the holdup, the crew arrives at its destination in fewer than 10 minutes. Two members of the fire department have already arrived.

Attack victim: Paramedic Scott Page, left, holds a bandage in place as his partner Dave Burr wraps the victim's arm in gauze. The man was cut by an attacker wielding a shovel.
Attack victim: Paramedic Scott Page, left, holds a bandage in place as his partner Dave Burr wraps the victim’s arm in gauze. The man was cut by an attacker wielding a shovel.

The middle-aged man, who has long hair and a thick mustache, sits in his living room chair surrounded by fire and ambulance personnel. His name is Mike. Strewn about Mike’s small house are empty packs of menthol cigarettes, beer cans and whisky bottles.

Hickey gives Mike an oxygen mask and Feland starts to gather more information.

“Hey Mike,” Feland says, while Hickey tightens the blood pressure cuff around Mike’s upper arm by squeezing the pump. “Do you know what day it is?”

Mike takes a few breaths, fogging up the mask, and answers.

“Fourteenth of March,” he says, barely audible.

Observing Mike’s tiny pupils, Feland asks Mike if he took any drugs. Mike nods, admitting he mixed heroin, gin and prescribed medication for hypertension and heart failure.

The paramedics embark on a number of technical procedures, but rely just as much on common sense and intuition when determining whether to give Mike the choice to be transported to the hospital.

Casually assuring Mike the police will not be involved, Hickey attaches Mike to a heart rate monitor by sticking suction-ended tubes to his chest.

Meanwhile, a fire department paramedic asks Mike’s friend – the one who called 911 – to smoke outside.

Seeing that Mike’s breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and comprehension are normal, Hickey lets Mike decide whether he goes to the hospital.

Mike shrugs his shoulders and looks at his concerned friend, now chain smoking outside, who makes sure the front door stays open so she can see what’s going on.

“Mike,” she says, “you can’t leave this decision to me.”

Mike decides not to go, fearing retribution from the police, adding, for some reason, that it has been three or four years since he last did heroin.

“How come you stopped?” asks Hickey.

“It was ruining my life,” Mike replies.

With this, Hickey, Feland and the two fire department employees gather their equipment and leave the house.

“Don’t do it again,” one advises.

“Don’t worry,” says Mike, hugging his friend in the doorway. “This was a wake-up call.”

Once in the vehicle, Hickey and Feland talk briefly about the incident.

“It’s been a while since I’ve done one of them,” says Hickey, referring to a heroin call. In his four years as a paramedic, he has responded to only one other such call.

“I just hope we don’t have to come back tonight,” says Feland, who is all too familiar with heroin calls, having worked as a paramedic in San Francisco before coming to Roseburg.

* * *

To be an ambulance paramedic is to be riddled in paradox.

In Roseburg, paramedics work 72 hours a week, yet enjoy four-day weekends. They feel the stress of being responsible for people’s lives, yet experience long periods of boredom.

Paramedics, minute-for-minute, might have the most monotonous job out there, but all paramedics have horror stories unrivaled by almost anyone in the workforce.

Training Officer Scott Page remembers a Roseburg logger who was crushed by a falling tree.

“It popped all his blood vessels,” he said. “From the chest up he was kind of purple-black.”

Paramedic Dan Coleman tells of a head-on car crash on Melrose Road that resulted in a fire with 100-foot flames. Paramedics tried to save a woman by pulling her out of the burning vehicle, but the air pressure sucked her back into the car.

Kevin Johnson, now the vice president of the Oregon State Ambulance Association and living in Bend, remembers plucking two bullets from the neck of a 20-year-old man in Sutherlin about 20 years ago, when the town didn’t have enough money for a police force. The man lived.

Most people’s lives are less bloody than the movies.

Paramedics, however, often find themselves turning off a gory movie and walking into a gory situation.

While many have grown accustomed to seeing death on TV, paramedics like Jerrid Edwards, a 24-year-old paramedic of two years, have built a tolerance to the real thing.

Edwards says he couldn’t begin to count the car accident fatalities he’s seen.

“That’s like trying to figure out the number of Volkswagens you see driving around,” the Roseburg native says as he waits with the ambulance in the parking lot of a video store for his partner, who’s getting movies.

It’s not that the gore bothers Edwards, however.

“It’s the smells of body fluids,” he said. “But you get used to it.”

To be sure, W.E.S.T. Ambulance manager Scott Page is quick to note the job isn’t anything like the TV shows “E.R.” and “Emergency,” the latter of which inspired him to become a paramedic.

“A lot of times, it’s pretty boring,” he admits. “We do a lot of sitting around.”

W.E.S.T. Ambulance, a private, for-profit company owned by Glide resident Richard Wilt, gets about a dozen 911 calls a day. With three ambulance crews on at any given time, one in Myrtle Creek and two in Roseburg, it can lead to quite a bit of thumb twiddling.

But 12 calls a day is only an average for the company, which, until the mid-‘80s, was part of Mercy Medical Center. Edwards said there are nights when he only gets an hour of sleep.

On an ideal day, he said, it is busy all day and quiet all night. That way, the time passes quickly, but he still gets to sleep – like a normal job.

Page said when he first started, it was even difficult to sleep on those nights.

“It used to be real scary knowing someone’s life can depend on you,” said the 40-year-old former newspaper photographer. “But you get used to it.”

Of course, Scott says, not all calls are matters of life and death.

Unnecessary calls, he said, can be frustrating.

At this, a call comes in for an elbow injury.

* * *

Page and paramedic Dave Burr roll their eyes while hopping into the ambulance, anticipating an unnecessary call.

But as they cut through rush hour traffic on Garden Valley Boulevard, the dispatcher leaks information – bit by bit – that tells them otherwise.

“Subject is a 30-year-old male,” says the dispatcher. “He says he was assaulted.”

The vehicle, using the Interstate 5 thoroughfare to get from Garden Valley to Harvard Avenue, hits 80 mph.
“Subject says he was assaulted with a shovel,” the dispatcher says.

In moments like this, paramedics have to be careful, Page says. So the crew has to make sure the police have gotten a handle on the situation first.

A call comes in assuring the crew that the police have arrived and that it can proceed. Page pulls over at Altamont and Brown, where the man, named Jeff, has come to meet him.

Jeff, who’s missing many teeth, has a towel wrapped around his elbow. The towel, his jeans and his white “Party Animal” T-shirt are bloody.

A man who lives in a shed in the neighborhood attacked him with a shovel, Jeff says.

“I can’t feel these two fingers,” he says, pointing to his left pinky and ring finger.

Page approaches Jeff, cautious not to turn his back on him. With gloved hands, Page slowly unwraps the towel.

“It was a verbal disagreement,” explains Jeff, who admits he’s been drinking alcohol.

“Looks like it was a little more than verbal,” Page replies, applying gauze to the wound – a damaged ulna nerve, otherwise known as the funny bone.

Jeff asks to be transported to Mercy. Page and Burr comply, placing the wincing man onto the gurney.

Jeff is talkative in the ambulance.

“The guy aimed for my head,” he contends. “It was definitely attempted murder. The spade broke right off.”

The crew hands Jeff over to the Mercy staff, who will take X-rays, stitch him up and release him.

From here, things are routine for the ambulance crew.

Burr cleans the blood off the gurney while Page does the paperwork.

“This is the worst part of the job,” Page says.

When the crew returns to the station, the others are watching “The Jeffersons.”

A fellow paramedic asks Page how it went. Page shrugs his shoulders and sits down.

A while later, the dispatcher’s voice cuts through one of George Jefferson’s tirades.

“911 medical alert.”

The paramedic turns down the volume.

“Vehicle-pedestrian collision on the 5000 block of Stephens Street near Winchester. The man is laying on his back.”

The paramedic turns the TV volume back up.

“Sounds serious,” he says. “But that’s Fire District Number Two’s district.”