PORT ANGELES — A Sequim man police said died by suicide Tuesday after jumping off the Tumwater Truck Route bridge was one of 10 people between the ages of 30 and 39 who took their own lives in Clallam County in the last 13½ months, officials said.
The body of Evan James Johnson, 36, was found by a motorist under the 100-foot-tall span at about 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, Port Angeles Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said.
An investigating officer said wire prongs intended to deter birds atop the bridge suicide-barrier fence were mashed down, indicating Johnson climbed over the top before falling onto the truck route’s southbound lane.
The fences on Eighth Street on the Tumwater Truck Route bridge and nearby span over South Valley Street were installed in 2018 in a $771,000 project to prevent suicide attempts. The barriers are between 8 feet, 8 inches and 10 feet, 7 inches tall. They replaced 4-foot, 6-inch railings that were installed when the bridges were replaced in February 2009.
Eight people had fallen to their deaths between February 2009 and July 2018, including four between June 2017 and July 2018.
Johnson’s death was the first reported from either Eighth Street bridge since the barriers were erected in September 2018.
A 39-year-old woman was prevented from jumping from the South Valley Street bridge on Monday, Viada said.
She had squeezed through the fence barrier on the side of the bridge and was prevented by a second fence barrier from climbing to the ledge of the span, he said.
A passing motorist saw her crying on the outside of the fence shortly after 5 p.m. Monday and said she was not responding to questions, according to a police report.
When a police officer arrived, “she was crying and hanging on to the back side of the fence,” according to the report.
“[The woman] said she was going through a really hard time,” according to the report.
“We were able to cut the fence open and pull [the woman] back through to safety.”
Viada said Officer Mike Johnson reached through and grabbed the woman before she harmed herself.
The eight people between the ages of 30-39 who died by suicide in 2020 is the second largest total for any single age group to die in that manner in 10 years, according to the Clallam County Coroner’s Office.
The total for the age group represented more than a third of the 23 people who died by suicide in 2020 and was more than double the next total of three of four other age categories, including 60-69, the single highest group overall from 2011 through 2020.
Nineteen people died by suicide in 2019, with the largest single age group 40-49, with six suicides.
Peninsula Behavioral Health CEO Wendy Sisk said Wednesday she did not have immediate access to statistics to indicate if the 30-39 age group is experiencing more mental health distress than other age groups or as a group.
“It’s hard to extrapolate from that small [total] of numbers,” she said.
“The state has been predicting a substantial increase in suicide risk and anticipated an increase in suicides over the last year with people in response to the COVID pandemic.
“To this point, fortunately, that has not come to fruition.”
But the pandemic may have had an overall effect on people seeking counseling and other mental health assistance.
Peninsula Behavioral Health (PBH) saw 400 more clients in 2020 compared with 2019, a 14 percent increase.
“There’s a lot of stress on folks,” Sisk said.
“Unemployment rates are higher, folks are unemployed, there’s stress on working parents who are managing the challenges associated with managing kids as well as normal work and home duties,” she added.
Statistically, men are at higher risk of dying by suicide than women while women tend to make more suicide attempts, and individuals ages 50-55 are the highest risk group, she said.
Johnson’s death would be the fourth by suicide in the first six weeks of 2021, county Deputy Coroner Christi Wojnowski said.
Johnson would be the second 30-39-year-old to die by suicide this year.
The county coroner’s office is investigating the death as a probable suicide but has not made a determination.
The police report said physical evidence indicated it was.
“The assumption is that this is a suicide,” Wojnowski said.
The 24-hour Salish Regional Crisis Line is 1-888-910-0416 for residents of Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties.
PBH gets feedback from the crisis line if people need help, Sisk said.
Text “connect” to 741741 for a crisis text line.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].