Man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge coming to Penn

Kevin Hines: “It was the first millisecond, the first moment of free fall. I knew it was the worst mistake I ever made.”

It takes four seconds to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge to the bay below, and Kevin Hines remembers every one of them.

On Sept. 25, 2000, Hines, then 19, took a bus to the San Francisco landmark, and gobbled down a last meal of Skittles and Starbursts. He walked around for a while, sobbing and hallucinating, hoping someone would notice and stop him. After a German tourist asked if he would take her picture, Hines hurdled the orange railing and sped toward the water at 75 mph, tears plastered across his face.

The regret he felt was something more than instant, he said. The urge to live filled up inside him - a few seconds too late, 220 feet above the bay.

"It was the first millisecond, the first moment of free fall. I knew it was the worst mistake I ever made," Hines, now 34, said recently.

Hines, found to have bipolar disorder as a teenager, now travels the world urging others to not make that mistake. He has detailed his attempted suicide and recovery in a book, Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, and he will speak Monday night at the University of Pennsylvania.

"I do believe suicide is preventable," Hines said.

His appearance follows the 10th suicide of a Penn student in the last three years. On Monday, 21-year-old Ao "Olivia" Kong, a junior at the Wharton School of Business, took her own life.

The odds were that Hines' jump was the last mistake he would make. The Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary, Alberta, says that more than 1,600 people have gone off the Golden Gate Bridge and that Hines is one of only 33 known to have survived. Surviving is akin to living through a head-on collision with a brick wall without a seat belt. Jumpers suffer massive internal injuries and broken bones, and those injuries are always compounded by the chilly, turbulent water of San Francisco Bay. A jumper may live long enough to drown.

Hines shattered and splintered three vertebrae, and those splinters pierced internal organs. He was able to tread water, and, bizarrely, he also says that a sea lion, a species common in the area, swam around him, helping keep his head above water until rescuers came.

Surgeons screwed a metal plate into Hines' back, and he spent a month in the hospital. Doctors credited his survival and almost complete physical recovery to his athleticism. He is a former wrestler.

Mental recovery proved tougher, and Hines spent months in psychiatric care at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco.

In the hospital, and later in church after he healed, priests told Hines he should talk about his experience. Suicide, he said, is still taboo at the dinner table. He was unsure whether he wanted to or could talk about his jump, but he fumbled and cried through the first presentation, and he has been making presentations ever since.

No one is immune to suicide, Hines said. "It affects all walks of life."

Suicides have increased steadily in the United States over the last decade, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, with middle-age white men seeing the greatest spike. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the country for all ages.

The Philadelphia chapter of the AFSP invited Hines to speak in the city, and it found a venue to host him at Penn. Garden Logan, a spokeswoman for the chapter, said that the setting is particularly relevant, but that the problem is universal.

"This is not a Penn issue. This is a community issue," Logan, who lost her brother to suicide in 2006, wrote by email. "Students everywhere are at high risk for suicide because they are sometimes unprepared to cope with the everyday stress that life presents: failed relationships, the pressure to succeed, job loss.

"Our children are dying because we do not know the warning signs: behavior, talk, and mood. Until we know what to look for, we are needle in a haystack on this issue. Until we change the conversation around the subject, it will remain cloaked in stigma, and more people will end their own lives."

Hines said that he had received letter   s from students of all ages after almost every presentation and that he hoped they let the suffering know they can open up. He also wants family, friends, complete strangers to understand that silence will not help and that there is no regret in action and kind intervention.

When a young man is crying and wandering around on a bridge with inner voices urging him to end it all, Hines said, a stranger's "Are you OK?" could make a difference. It would only take a few seconds.

Kevin Hines will appear at 7 p.m. Monday at the Jordan Medical Center and Law Auditorium, 3400 Civic Center Blvd., University City. Tickets are $15 ($5 for students) and can be purchased at For more information about suicide prevention, visit

215-854-5916 @jasonnark