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2nd Bridge Fall Kills Foe of War

March 21, 2003|Rone Tempest and Carol Pogash | Special to The Times

SAN FRANCISCO — All afternoon long, co-workers said, Paul Alladin Alarab's 9-year-old son called the office looking for his father. But Alarab, a 44-year-old Iraqi American, deeply troubled by the looming war, was already dead at the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday after what authorities described as a protest suicide.

Fifteen years earlier, almost to the day, Alarab survived a 220-foot plunge from the span. That was during another one-man protest, on behalf of the elderly and handicapped. After that fall, which he said was accidental, Alarab vowed to reporters: "I'll never put my life on the line again, because I feel so lucky to be alive today."

With his boss, he had spoken optimistically about the coming year. But the tall, 210-pound Alarab had recently undergone personal bankruptcy and a bitter divorce, fighting tenaciously to win sole custody of his two children, ages 9 and 12.

Colleagues at the Heritage Real Estate office in suburban Lafayette said he was disturbed by U.S. plans to invade Iraq. He worried that Iraqi children would be killed.

Under his business suit, they said, Alarab wore an antiwar T-shirt. A sign left on his desk said "No Hate."

"He's the first American casualty of the war," said Serita Churchill, his boss at the real estate agency. "I'm sure he intended to make a very deep statement about the war, but I still have a hard time imagining that he tried to kill himself."

Chris Alarab, the dead man's brother, said the family had no immediate comment. The Alarabs' ranch-style home in the Berkeley Hills near Tilden Park was empty Thursday afternoon. A dusty pair of children's hiking boots and men's walking shoes were left near the front door.

Officials from the Coast Guard and California Highway Patrol reported that, about 10:50 a.m. Wednesday, seven hours before the assault on Iraq began, Alarab climbed over the east guardrail at midspan, the highest point above the frigid, fast-flowing channel.

The Marin County coroner's office said Alarab lowered himself over the bridge using a rope and harness. "He was expressing his personal opposition to the impending war and reading from a prepared one-page statement," the coroner reported. "The CHP and the Golden Gate Bridge personnel tried to talk him off the bridge prior to his jumping."

Coast Guard spokesman Bruce Pimental said a waiting boat recovered Alarab's body less than two minutes after the fall.

Co-workers speculated that Alarab may have been emboldened by his earlier brush with death. On March 14, 1988, he tried to lower himself in a 33-gallon garbage can extended on a 60-foot rope tied to the bridge's main span. But Alarab, who said he was protesting on behalf of the elderly and handicapped, appeared to slip, and fell into the 58-degree water.

Despite suffering broken ribs and collapsed lungs, Alarab, who was born in Berkeley, was able to reach shore on his own after swimming for two hours. He was picked up by a fishing boat.

The act gained Alarab brief fame. At the time, only 19 people were known to have survived a drop from the bridge, of the estimated 851 known suicide attempts.

"It seemed like the fall lasted forever," Alarab told an Associated Press reporter. "I was praying for God to give me another chance."

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Times staff writer Steve Hymon contributed to this report.

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