Editor's Note: Updates story with identity of the victim and background information.
A Lake Forest woman who was last seen on Monday night has been identified as the victim of an apparent suicide jump off the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge.
The body of Michele Ann McKay was found below the bridge Saturday, a little after 10 a.m., 63 feet below the main artery that connects Rancho Santa Margarita to Mission Viejo.
The Orange County Coroner has pegged her fatal injuries as occurring Tuesday. She was discovered by passersby from the bridge, who contacted the Orange County Fire Authority.
The Orange County Sheriff assisted on the call and confirmed that the woman was deceased in the creekbed.
"To my knowledge, there were no witnesses to the event," said Lt. Brian Schmutz, chief of police services in Rancho Santa Margarita. "It did not look like a recent jump."
McKay was 56. A 25-year resident of Lake Forest who had raised two children, she was identified through fingerprints.
Her family indicated that and requested help from Orange County residents earlier this week to keep an eye out for her. They believed she might have headed for the beach after leaving her home on Monday, about 10 p.m.
The Coroner's office indicated an autopsy next week will determine the cause of death.
Her family described the insurance claims adjuster as "distraught" and that recent financial and medical issues were the likely cause of her disappearance. Her sister, Mary Schaffer, said recent circumstances were "maxing out [McKay's] capacity to cope."
Her disappearance was out of character and shocked family members, Schaffer said.
Wearing workout attire and running shoes, McKay jumped mid-span from the inland side of the westbound lanes.
The initial call to the OCSD was 10:19 a.m.
The bridge, which rises about 63 feet over O'Neill Regional Park and spans Trabuco Creek, has been the site of six deaths in the past, two accidental and four suicides. The first occurred in November, 2005 when Jennifer Lee Hashimoto, 35, tried to retrieve an item that flew out of her car and hopped the interior railing thinking there was a median between the east and west spans; there is not.
The most recent successful suicide attempt was Aug. 4, 2010; Joseph Feeley, the second suicide in a four-month span, was not discovered until four days later.
On June 12, 2011, Stephen Beckman jumped off the bridge and survived with critical injuries, only to jump off the Oso Parkway bridge on July 7, 2012, while his mother looked on. Beckman was kept alive for several days so that organs from his body could be harvested. He is believed to be the only known survivor from the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge.
Rancho Santa Margarita deputies, and those in nearby Las Flores, have been busy over the last few months. , Deputy Tim Africano climbed a fence about eight feet above the Banderas Bridge and grabbed a teenager who was on the other side; the boy went limp in an effort to fall and Africano straddled the fence and held the boy with one arm until additional officers arrived to assist pulling him up and over the fence.
, Deputy Felipe Martinez tackled a despondent 20-year-old who was on the outside ledge of the Antonio Parkway Bridge at Cañada Vista Park; other officers had distracted the man allowing Martinez to make the grab.
On March 30, Deputies Maria Bowman and Richard Oates approached a man on the railing of the Santa Margarita Parkway Bridge and talked him down. On April 28, 1011, Deputy Joses Walehwa engaged a 21-year-old Trabuco Hills man on the bridge long enough for a crisis team to arrive and coax him to safety.
Anyone contemplating suicide should immediately talk to a professional who is trained to guide individuals through pain and life crises. For more information about suicide or help, consider the following:
- Orange County Suicide Prevention Resource page: http://www.ocgov.com/ocgov/Health/Mental%20Health/Suicide%20Prevention
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
- Suicide Prevention Network:
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center:
- American Association of Suicidology
- The Trevor Project
Crisis Prevention Phonelines
- Local Toll free Number for Emergency Psychiatric Evaluation in Orange County - 24/7365: 866-830-6011 or 714-834-6900
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: at 1-800-273-TALK (8255),
- Youth Crisis Hotline, 24 hours a day 1-800-HIT-HOME (448-4663)