Pa. man leaps to his death off Hatteras lighthouse — (The Virginian-Pilot)

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The Virginian-Pilot

By CATHERINE KOZAK, The Virginian-Pilot

September 9, 2003

Ann Tracy,Ph.D., Director of ICFDA, received a phone call and later a faxed letter from a man who was a friend of the family of the young man who committed suicide.  The man called Dr. Tracy because the family told him the young man was on an antidepressant. They knew it was an antidepressant but could not recall the name of the drug.

BUXTON, N.C. — After calmly buying his ticket and climbing 257 steps to the top of the nation’s tallest brick beacon, a 26-year-old newlywed on Monday leaped to his death off the balcony of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

Adrian Benner of Leola, Pa., gave no clues that he was distressed, said Mark Hardgrove, deputy superintendent of the National Park Service Outer Banks Group.

“He smiled and said hello as he walked up,” Hardgrove said.  “That’s what surprises me — how well planned it was. He didn’t even stutter.”

Benner, who climbed the steps alone, was married on Saturday, said Mary Doll, a park service spokeswoman. It was not known where the couple had married or where they were staying.

Benner’s wife, whose name was unavailable, did not know that he was climbing the lighthouse, Doll said, and had no idea of his intentions.

“There was no indication given to predict this behavior,” Doll said,  “either from his wife, or the folks who saw him at the lighthouse. Everyone said he was acting perfectly normal.”

Doll said that park service officials were not aware of any history of mental illness in Benner, who worked as a mechanic.

Hardgrove said that Benner made no statement, or even a shout or cry, before he jumped off the backside of the tower at about 2:20 p.m., landing face-first on the grass inside a fenced area.

Five visitors and two park service volunteers were at the top at the time. A few people were also inside, and about 50 more were within the light-station buildings and grounds. No children saw the incident, Hardgrove said.

One lighthouse staff member and two visitors saw him going off the tower, Doll said, but it is unclear exactly how he got over the railing.

Some witnesses on the ground who were trained medical personnel ran over immediately to assist Benner. Hardgrove said that there were no vital signs. Dare County EMS performed CPR for about 45 minutes at the scene, he said.

“We had some pretty high-power help there right away, and our district ranger was there in minutes,” Hardgrove said.  “But all attempts were unsuccessful.”

No suicide note had been found on his body or in his Chevrolet Blazer, which was in the lighthouse parking lot, Hardgrove said.

The lighthouse was closed immediately after the incident. It is scheduled to re-open today.

Hardgrove said that as far as Outer Banks park service officials know, it is the first time anyone has purposely jumped off of the 208-foot-high lighthouse. The balcony, which is encircled by a black cast-iron railing, stands 165 feet, 5 inches from the ground, about the same height as the roof of a 12-story building.

Suicides at national parks are not uncommon, Hardgrove said, with people coming to a dramatic end inside canyons or off of cliffs.

Hardgrove said that the park service will make counseling services available to lighthouse staff.

Reach Catherine Kozak at (252) 441-1711 or cate.kozak@pilotonline.com