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Shock Jock Howard Stern Stops Caller's Suicide Leap : Media: Man phoned in threat from edge of bridge. Radio personality says he decided to 'keep this man laughing' until authorities could arrive.

December 08, 1994|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Shock-radio personality Howard Stern, contacted by cellular phone by a man threatening to leap from the George Washington Bridge, kept the man talking during his Wednesday morning show until police could seize the would-be jumper.

"Once I determined this was a jumper, I said: 'I have to keep this man laughing . . . until the cops get there,' " Stern told a news conference.

"Who better to help someone who is psychologically disturbed than Howard Stern, who himself is psychologically disturbed?" he joked as police officers offered congratulations.

Police said Emilio Bonilla, 29, walked to the middle of the bridge, climbed over a railing and called Stern.

"Let me thank you for calling in," Stern told Bonilla. "I always wanted to help someone who was about to jump off a bridge."

As a national radio audience listened, the two spoke for several minutes as Bonilla threatened to plunge into the Hudson River.

"I mentioned the fact I had a movie coming out and he would miss it if he would die," Stern said. "It caused him to laugh. But it also caused him to say: 'Hey, wait a second. Maybe I should stay around for the movie.' "

At another point, Stern told Bonilla: "You may think life's a bed of roses, but it's not" and pleaded with him to get "tuned into anything in life" with "a little hobby or something."

Port Authority Police Lt. Stanley Bleeker, who was listening to the drama, sent officers to the scene. They found that Helen Trimble of Brooklyn, another listener, had stopped her car and had wrapped Bonilla in a bearhug.

"I heard this man talking, saying he was looking at a police helicopter," Trimble said. " . . . I was looking on the bridge for a man talking on a cellular phone. He was easy to pick out. . . .

"I stopped my car in the middle of the bridge and put a hug on him. He was shaking, and he was talking to you, and his face would lighten every once in a while," she later told Stern. "I don't know what you were saying to him. But he would lighten up and slowly, slowly, he started to relax a little bit more. . . ."

Police said Bonilla, a New Yorker, was very distraught and was taken to a local hospital for psychiatric evaluation. He was charged with cocaine possession and reckless endangerment.

A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge, said there was no evidence that what occurred was a hoax.

At the beginning, Stern wondered whether the call was a joke and he asked listeners on the bridge, which links New York City with New Jersey, to honk their horns. One driver beeped his horn, verifying the seriousness of the situation.

"There is tremendous pressure on an individual when someone is pleading with you to give them a reason to live," Stern said at the news conference. "Through my calm, through my collected way, I was able to keep my wits about me and, of course, save the day."

Stern also said the incident should convince the Federal Communications Commission, which has fined him $1.67 million for indecency, of what a great guy he is.

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