Friday Mar 27 2009
Hope survives in chaos of reporter’s news day
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
Two miracles. One tragedy. Cutting through the plethora of squawk on the police scanner, phone calls, letters, conversations on the street, news releases and e-mails that passed through this reporter’s working life on a recent four days, three events stood out, entwined by a thick thread of hope. Let’s start with the first miracle. About to leave for home after work March 16, a familiar, high-pitched tone came over the scanner signaling an emergency. The call was to the Foresthill Bridge, the scene of at least 43 deaths over the past 35 years. I rushed to the scene. An injured woman had been sighted at the bottom of a steep embankment near the bridge. With darkness moving in, her bright yellow jacket was seen from the span’s railing above by a group of sightseers. With serious leg and back injuries, the woman couldn’t move and would have died of exposure overnight in the cold. She told her rescuers she wanted to die, signaling her intent to take her life that day — or night. I walked out of the canyon to get back to the Journal and write the story of her rescue just as the final light of day broke through the clouds and splashed against the bridge in an ethereal, golden glow. For the woman, her rescue was a second chance. For me, the sudden sunlight on a gray evening was a majestic sight — a symbol of hope that the woman would be OK and I wouldn’t be at the bridge again any time soon. The tragedy occurred the next day. This time, a circulation department employee alerted the newsroom to more activity at the Foresthill Bridge. At the bridge, I learned of the search for a man who had left his car parked there the night before and hadn’t returned home. The man’s body was found at the edge of the American River more than 700 feet below. I was soon scrambling down the canyon to the river’s edge to record the effort to retrieve the body via helicopter from its remote resting place. The grim count of people jumping or falling from the bridge had reached at least 44. In terms of the emotional ripples spreading out from the victim’s friends and family into the community, the impact is immeasurable. I left that day to return to the Journal hoping the people the jumper leaves behind can recover and maybe emerge stronger from the tragedy. Miracle No. 2 took place two days later. A woman jumped off the roof of the Gold Country Mall across from the Journal office. While Journal employees and bystanders watched in shock and horror, I grabbed a camera and a notebook to record a frightening event unfolding on a busy Downtown Auburn street. The woman landed on her back, at least 30 feet from the top of the three-story building. Fortunately, the surface she landed on was the flat, wide roof of a Volvo station wagon. The roof crumpled from impact. There was no sunroof or roof rack to twist her body as it hit. She was injured. But she survived. A trauma nurse saw the fall and quickly rushed to the woman’s aid, preventing anyone from moving her and possibly displacing a broken back. The woman was more than fortunate in the fall. If the car wasn’t parked there, she would have landed on the unyielding pavement. If she had landed a different way, for example on her head, she would have been killed. The woman left in an ambulance, given another chance at life. If you define the word “miracle” as the right thing happening at the right place at the right time, this was definitely another one. No timely ray of light this time as I walked back to the Journal to write my story. But I again felt that same sense of hope — for the woman and a life still before her to live as best she could. Hope. I think it’s written between the lines in a reporter’s job description because it keeps on turning up in the unlikeliest of places. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountry media.com. His Media Life column appears Fridays in the Auburn Journal.