Officials mull removing part of Chattahoochee bridge after drownings

People jumping off a 101-year-old bridge into the Chattahoochee River has been an issue for years. But after two recent drownings, National Park Service officials are considering new safety measures.

Joshua Elias Katikla, 20, died Aug. 16 after jumping off the bridge with two friends. Perez G. Tamfu, 17 and a rising senior at Mountain View High School, died July 30 after jumping from the bridge. He had gone to the recreation area to swim with friends, but it was unclear whether any of those friends also jumped.

To combat the problems, officials are considering removing beams on the Gwinnett County side of the bridge, said Bill Cox, superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. The other side faces Forsyth.

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Despite the history of jumping, the deaths are the first, as far as Cox knows.

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It’s a 25-foot drop from the base of the bridge into the waters of the Chattahoochee, but some jumpers climb on top of the bridge, adding up to 20 feet to the plunge. 

The bridge, built in 1916, is not intended for pedestrian use, but has been preserved as a historical artifact, Cox said. Officials believe removing beams on the Gwinnett side would keep people off the bridge. Those beams are how most jumpers have accessed the bridge, Cox said.

Park workers have stepped up patrols around the bridge, which is not part of an established trail and not easy to get to, Cox said. There have been 50 citations and warnings issued in the past month.

The time frame for a decision on removing the beams isn’t entirely clear, but Cox hopes to get the plan in motion by early September.

“It’s a priority for us,” Cox said. “We’re moving as fast as we can to hopefully keep people from hurting themselves or killing themselves.”

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Neighbors say they realize they live next to the tracks, but the engine usually doesn’t run for five days nonstop.

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