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La Liga de Las Americas

High Level Bridge that spans the Maumee River near downtown Toledo.

Unanswered questions of death, disappearance haunt families of two Latino youths


By Alan Abrams
La Prensa Senior Correspondent


This is a tale of two young Latinos. One was found dead in the Maumee River in September, 2005, the other disappeared near the High Level Bridge two months later.


The Lucas County Coroner’s Office verdict on Tom Salazar, 24, is officially given as ‘death by drowning’—Tom would have been 25 years of age on Nov. 12.  


Daniel Pérez, 22, has been missing since Nov. 8 when he left his job at the B.P. Refinery in Oregon, Ohio at 10:00PM. Some sixty minutes later, his car was found running on the top of the High Level Bridge (also known as the Anthony Wayne Bridge, located near downtown Toledo) over the Maumee. 

His phone, glasses, Bible, and wallet were all found in his car. His mother told police she was not aware of any personal problems Pérez may have had. Investigators have not ruled out foul play or suicide in his disappearance.

Mary McElhaney (née Segura) of Graytown, Ohio waits for closure.  She is the mother of Daniel Pérez.  Although information on her son’s disappearance has been sought by Crimestoppers, there have been no solid leads.

Left: Tom Salazar & Shorty
Daniel Pérez

She has received help from Toledo Police Department Lt. Ronald Navarro and Jim Anderson as well as from Major John Tharp of the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office. But she is waiting for word on what, if anything, they have learned.


According to Lt. Navarro, “Every effort is being made to locate her son. We have asked the U.S. Coast Guard and the Toledo Fire and Rescue Dept. for help and will renew this request before the river freezes.”


“I’ve just been sitting by the phone,” says McElhaney. “I’ve done all I can physically do. There’s nothing else we can do on our end.  If anyone saw Dan or knows anything, I hope they’ll call. The police have had a few leads, and if they get anything they will follow up on it. But it is so frustrating.  I pray a lot.  I don’t know that he did jump. The opinion of some people is that he did.  But it is difficult to even think about that.”


Because her son’s car was found at the High Level Bridge, McElhaney has paid a lot of attention to the site. “I’ve gone up and down the bridge. There is no fencing out there (over the water). People fence in their swimming pools to keep children from falling in them. There are fences around houses, but why not over the water?  Whether Dan went into the river there or not, the access from the bridge isn’t protected by a high wall or fence. There is no deterrent.


“Why do we protect property but not protect lives? That should be our priority. This situation should be brought to the public’s attention. There should be public outrage. This is the highest, deepest spot of the river where the current is strongest. This needs to be addressed. It could save somebody else’s life,” says McElhaney.


The life of Lucy Salazar’s son ended at the Maumee River.  “In retrospect, my son died because he was depressed, he was heartbroken. We know that for a fact. We went through his apartment. He was in a relationship for three years that turned kind of rocky over its last four months. It was like an up-and-down roller coaster ride.


“He was hurting.  I never would have believed where his state of mind was taking him. I do know that the statistics show that Hispanics have a greater tendency to suicide than the general population. Our population gets depressed. We know how powerful depression is, and depression runs in our family. But I just never knew how bad it was for Tom although we were close,” says Salazar.


“He did leave a note saying that he couldn’t take the hurt any longer.  We found that in his car. He didn’t smoke and he very rarely drank. He was always the designated driver for his friends. And he was so dedicated to his art. They say that artists have a very sensitive side. If I could have done anything to prevent what happened,” says Salazar, her voice trailing off.


“Tom left his car on the expressway where it could be found. All his personal items were still in the car, his camera, his CD’s. Nothing had been tampered with,” adds Salazar.


According to Rita Bonnell of the Lucas County Coroner’s Office, the records kept by the office show seven suicides from the High Level Bridge since 1985. One in 1997 was a Latina, Della Cruz. The cause of death for Tom Salazar is officially listed only as drowning, although the office confirms they have his suicide note.

Could Salazar’s death have been prevented by barriers or fences on the bridge? Dale Rupert, senior bridge engineer in the City of Toledo’s division of Street Bridges and Harbor, told La Prensa the “High Level Bridge has vandal fencing or missile barriers to prevent objects from being thrown off the bridge. The fencing meets ODOT criteria for vandal fencing on bridges. Beyond that, we have put barriers on cables to deter despondent people from climbing the cables.”

Protective fencing at High Level Bridge extends only over land and not Maumee River despite deaths.

Has it helped? In July, police negotiators were able to successfully talk a would-be jumper into coming down off the cables.


But Rupert’s response raises the question of how far do you go to spend taxpayer’s money to protect people from themselves? Should the Latino community be doing more to address the suicide issue given the statistics cited by Salazar and which can easily be found on the Internet?


The studies show this may be a serious mental health issue. Minority adolescents reported significantly higher rates of symptoms and thought of depression than did their Anglo counterparts.


However, there are other issues such as the cost of erecting so-called “suicide barriers” and issues over their disturbing the aesthetics of existing bridges.


The city of Toledo went to the expense of adding lights to the High Level in 1985.


Unlike the High Level, however, the Maumee River Crossing Bridge, currently under construction, does not have any walkways. A would-be jumper who plans to stop and park his car on the bridge may accomplish his goal easier by just stopping in the busy traffic on the interstate highway crossing the span.


Do “suicide barriers” work? According to published reports, the Empire State Building, the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, the Duomo at St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal were all suicide magnets before barriers were erected on them.


At Prince Edward Viaduct in Toronto, the site of nearly 500 fatal jumps, engineers constructed a $4 million “luminous veil” of stainless-steel rods above the railing. At all these places, after the barriers were put in place, the number of jumpers has declined to a handful or zero.


A study of the “suicide barrier” at Duke Ellington Bridge in Washington, D.C. shows that the installation of the barrier did not cause a corresponding increase in suicides at other nearby bridges. The study suggests that when faced with a barrier, suicidal people are forced to pause, giving them a chance to rethink their situation and seek help. That is also the theory behind the “last-chance” phones that dot the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.


A 2003 article in the New York Times quotes Alan L. Bremer, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, as saying, “If you thwart jumpers from an immediately accessible site, you will save some lives.”


The fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge became a mecca for jumpers since its construction in 1937. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, more than 1,218 people have jumped from the span, dubbed by locals as the “Lethal Beauty.”


Studies have shown that installing a suicide barrier would prevent deaths.  Officials looked at installing a nine-foot wire fence, nylon safety net and high-voltage laser beams.  But a $2 million feasibility study has not been fully funded, and the cost of the suicide barrier has been estimated at between $15 and $25 million.


A popular blog on the Web devoted to suicide sites claims that Akron’s All-America suicide bridge underwent renovations in 1993, costing $27 million, which included the installation of suicide-prevention rails.


But Mark Williamson, Communications Director for Akron Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic, scoffed at the report. He said a “suicide barrier” would probably cost $2 to $3 million to install. “There are no funds for that,” he explains in what may be the simple answer for the question raised by Dan Pérez’s mother: At what price does local government draw the line at protecting lives and not just property?


If you have any information on Daniel Pérez's disappearance visit   http://www.toledopolice.com/crime stopper.html







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