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5-year-old survives bridge fall
Youngster seen clutching man's leg
Police watched tragedy helplessly

The Toronto Star, by GABE GONDA AND HENRY STANCU, STAFF REPORTERS, Mar. 7, 2005

It's a miracle: A 5-year-old girl taken by her father, who was bent on killing her and himself, was thrown 15 metres from an overpass into oncoming traffic and survived without a broken bone.

The man, who died after jumping, led police on a frantic chase yesterday afternoon to a bridge on Don Mills Rd., over Highway 401. They were called there by the girl's mother at 4:30 p.m. after she found a suicide note at her nearby apartment.

"This guy was a loaded missile," Duty Insp. Brian O'Connor said at police headquarters last night. "He was going to kill himself and he was going to take his daughter to punish his wife for whatever he thought she had done wrong in the relationship,"

O'Connor said the man repeatedly called his estranged wife on his way to the bridge, telling her over and over again he was going to kill the girl.

"(It) amounts to psychological torture," O'Connor said.

Police weren't releasing the man's name to protect the family's privacy and are still looking into whether he had custody rights.

Shocked drivers in the highway's westbound lanes called police from their cellphones to report seeing the pair fall onto the road. While police didn't have time to halt traffic, drivers came to a stop. Officers who'd been trying to stop the man on the bridge but hadn't come close to him, ran down to the highway and helped put the girl into an ambulance, which rushed her to Sick Children's Hospital.

The girl suffered internal bleeding when she arrived but that stopped. Her condition is being monitored closely, but appears to be stable. She was alert enough to be talking.

Witnesses recalled seeing the girl, who was wearing a bright pink snowsuit, clutching the man's leg. Others remember seeing her in his arms as he screamed into the cellphone.

Then she was gone. He continued standing there, alone, for several seconds before disappearing over the waist-high railing of the bridge's east sidewalk.

"I saw the guy on the cellphone and he was screaming. There was a kid with a pink-coloured snowsuit. She was hugging and holding his leg as she was screaming," said Mehran Vagandoust as he and a friend were driving along Graydon Hall Dr. approaching the Don Mills overpass.

"I didn't see any police, but on our way back my friend said, `That was the guy we saw,'" he added, trembling from shock.

Just before he threw the girl off the bridge and jumped himself, the man could be heard speaking on his cellphone, saying, "It's so freezing. We're freezing."

Witness Yvonne Ferrer recalled the two on the bridge, but couldn't imagine whmit suicide."

Police had just launched a large-scale search and officers arrived at the bridge unable to stop what was about to happen.

The bridge is eight kilometres from the Shady Golfway apartment building where the child and her mother are believed to live, in the Don Valley Parkway and Eglinton Ave. E. area.

The man was known to ride the TTC and was believed to be on a bus with the girl.

It is believed he got off the bus near Graydon Hall Dr. and walked to the bridge as police closed in on him.

Witnesses said it appeared two officers stayed in their cruiser parked away from the man as they waited for backup to arrive and determine how the situation was to be handled.

The two officers on the bridge watched helplessly as the man sent the girl off the overpass and jumped.

"They're stunned, they're second-guessing themselves," said O'Connor.

The Toronto police homicide unit was called in.

The Special Investigations Unit, which probes incidents involving police in which a person is injured or killed, has not been called. Because the man is believed to have lived in Durham that region's police force is helping in the investigation.

When paramedics arrived on the highway, the little girl was unconscious but breathing.

She was transported to Sick Kids hospital in an emergency run by Toronto police and ambulance, while the man, aged about 35, was pronounced dead where his body lay in the westbound express lanes.

Police initially responded to a call of an abduction at about 4:30 p.m., and were looking for the girl, described as having a dimple on her chin and missing her bottom four teeth.

Anthony Tsinangos said: "We saw the man standing on the opposite side of the railing and by the time we made the left turn he had dropped. We saw him jump, but didn't see the kid.

"It's unfortunate, throwing a kid — an innocent — what are you going to do?"

Two women in a car, and Michael Nawrocki, who was driving a van, stopped on the bridge when they saw the man and child go over. "He threw her over and then he jumped after," said Nawrocki, who was driving south on Don Mills Rd.

He said he saw a cruiser parked on the side of the bridge as the man was peering over the railing onto the highway.

"As soon as he jumped the police officers ran out of their car and that's it."401 HORROR | Father throws girl off overpass — then jumps