Reserve soldier jumps off Narrows bridge

A 25-year-old soldier being questioned by a state trooper jumped off the eastbound Tacoma Narrows bridge early Monday morning, appeared to survive the fall but disappeared before he could be rescued, authorities said.

A search below the bridge failed to find any trace of the man, who was last seen swimming in the cold water.

A Tacoma Fire Department boat searched the water south of the bridge for a few hours without success. Firefighters turned the search over to the U.S. Coast Guard about 8 a.m. A Coast Guard helicopter and one of its 25-foot boats took up the search south of the bridge. It was suspended about 10:30 a.m., a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Washington State Patrol spokeswoman trooper Brandy Kessler said the man, who appeared to be very intoxicated, spoke with a trooper who responded to a report of a car stopped on the bridge about 5 a.m.

At one point during the conversation, she said, the man rushed toward the railing and jumped over. The trooper raced to the railing and saw the man face down in the water. The man, who apparently survived the initial jump, started to swim away, Kessler said.

“Then the trooper couldn’t see him anymore,” she said.

The man’s name was not released.

Kessler said authorities don’t know whether the man was attempting suicide, trying to escape arrest on suspicion of DUI or something else. In his condition, he might not have known where he was or might have thought he could survive the jump, she said.

Kessler said the trooper found the car parked illegally on the shoulder. The man was sitting in the passenger seat, which was closest to the railing. No one else was in the car.

The trooper went around to the passenger door and found it locked. He then opened the driver’s door and asked the man to get out, which he did. Kessler said that at some point the man handed the trooper his military identification card.

Realizing the man was very drunk, the trooper went to the front of the car and asked the man to come forward to take some field sobriety tests, Kessler said.

Instead, the man bolted the 10 feet to the railing and jumped into the cold water 187 feet below, she said.

According to the man’s ID, he is an activated U.S. Army Reserve soldier, Kessler said. He was in a Hertz rental car, she added.

A spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord said there is no record of the man being assigned to the base.

“We don’t know what was going on in his mind,” Kessler said. “He didn’t appear to know where he was at.”

Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692 mike.archbold@thenewstribune.com