If you think it might be great fun to jump off a Beaufort County bridge into the water below, think hard before you take the plunge.
The results are not only dangerous. They can be deadly.
“The dangers are inherent,” John Gobel, sergeant supervisor of the Sheriff’s Office Environmental Crimes Unit, said on Thursday. “When you’re jumping 30 or 40 feet, just a small miscalculation (and you) can hit the water wrong. If you hit the water wrong, it’s like being hit in the chest with a baseball bat. It can incapacitate you and, ultimately, you drown.”
Visibility in the water in Beaufort County is around two feet, Gobel said. That murkiness often hides dangers below, including debris from Hurricane Matthew. Debris lurking under the surface includes pieces of wood from docks, poles, twisted metal, cables and ropes.
“A lot of debris has been washed up around these bridges,” Gobel said. “The currents change the depths, they move the sandbars. There are just so many things that can go wrong when you jump off a bridge that could cost you your life.”
Those warnings came Thursday, a day after two people took the leap at two separate county bridges.
A Ridgeland man jumped from one of the Hilton Head Island bridges on Wednesday in what investigators say was not a suicide attempt.
Kenneth Nusser, 47, of Ridgeland, jumped from one of the eastbound bridges on the island around noon Wednesday.
Capt. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said investigators believe Nusser jumped at the lower portion of the bridge closer to the island. He was found by deputies walking in a wooded area near the water after he swam ashore to C.C. Haigh Landing. He was treated by EMS for minor injuries and taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center on a public disorderly conduct charge. A report offering details about the incident wasn’t complete Thursday, Bromage said.
Several agencies were called to the scene, including the Sheriff’s Office, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, marine rescue and the Bluffton Township Fire District.
Hours later, another report of a bridge jumper was released by the Fire District around 6 p.m. at the Lemon Island bridge.
The jumper was a woman wearing a bathing suit who reportedly jumped and swam to a waiting boat before the boat left the area, Bromage said. She did not appear to be injured.
As if the dangers below the surface weren’t enough, there’s also the law to think about.
Beaufort County Municipal Code says jumping or diving from any public bridge and any public fishing pier in the county is illegal. Violators may be found guilty of a misdemeanor, fined up to $200 or imprisoned for up to 30 days.
According to data from the S.C. Department of Transportation, there are 50 bridges in the county that are monitored by the state. Fifteen are tall enough to allow boats to navigate beneath them, including the portion of the bridge Nusser jumped from, which DOT says has 65 feet of navigational clearance during median tide.
Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen said Thursday he remembers at least three bridge jumps — in 2009 on the Broad River Bridge, in 2015 on the Cross Island Parkway Bridge and in 2016 on the McTeer Bridge in northern Beaufort County. All three were ruled suicides.
Even if jumpers survive the fall, Allen said, the injuries can be horrific.
Depending on the angle of impact, jumpers could suffer injuries to major parts of the body including a fractured neck, a fractured skull, severance of the spinal cord, decompression of the abdomen and a sudden increase in blood pressure that could rupture internal organs.
“Simply, it’s against the law,” Gobel said of attempting the free fall. “Hopefully that’s enough to discourage people from doing it.”
If it’s not, there’s one more thing Gobel wants would-be jumpers to consider.
“Maybe you should think about your family standing on the boat dock waiting for us to recover your body for two or three days for doing something silly.”