By Mike Clary
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Dania Beach, Fla., woman whose daring rescue from an upright railway bridge drew cheers from onlookers — many of whom captured the drama on cellphones — will likely be charged with trespassing, a railroad official said Sunday.
“I don’t know why the locals didn’t charge her,” said Robert Ledoux, a spokesman for the Florida East Coast Railway. “There are numerous ‘No Trespassing’ signs. There is no way she could not know she was trespassing.”
The 55-year-old became trapped Saturday morning about 22 feet off the ground when the bridge over the New River went back into its normal upright position after the passage of a train minutes earlier.
Based on information the FEC received from Fort lauderdale police, Ledoux identified the woman as Wanda McGowan.
“She was just stuck in this Jesus Christ position,” said Phillip Glazebrook, a Fort Lauderdale man who witnessd the riveting rescue. “The woman was frozen and terrified.”
Pictures of the woman clinging to the bridge went viral and were picked up in newspapers across the country. The British Broadcasting Corp. and CNN were among the networks that contacted Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue for more information, said spokesman Matt Little.
In a statement released Sunday, Little expressed concerns, saying the woman’s “decision to cross the clearly marked railroad bridge should not be lauded.”
“We are thankful that the individual involved in this life-threatening incident survived,” he said. “The decision to trespass on private property was an unfortunate poor choice that endangered the trespasser’s life as well as the lives of the first responders.”
Ledoux said he was bothered by media reports that “made it sound like she was a hero, holding onto the bridge.
“My understanding is that she elected to take a shortcut home,” said Ledoux. “That is very unsafe. If someone falls off that bridge, most likely it would be high enough that they would be killed. My biggest fear is that someone would think this is a good idea.”
Responding to several 911 calls, firefighters used a 24-foot ladder to bring the woman down unharmed after she had been holding on to the structure for more than 20 minutes. Dressed in shorts and a pink shirt, McGowan told firefighters she had taken part in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K Walk, which had started about two hours earlier in nearby Huizenga Plaza, north of the New River.
Attempts to reach McGowan by phone and at her Dania Beach home Sunday were unsuccessful.
The span, which works by remote control, is lowered only for the passage of trains. Minutes after FEC officials were notified that the woman was clinging to the bridge, Ledoux said, they offered to lower the span. But firefighters chose to rescue her by ladder, he said.
As part of the FEC investigation, Ledoux said, railway officials will look at surveillance video that might have recorded the woman walking onto the bridge.