This is less than a block from where I work. Westgate bridge over the Kansas river, HWY 75. There was 2 ft of water in the river where he jumped.
Story & pictures...
"On his medication, he was fine. His life was normal. Off his medication, he was dead."
Those were the words of a grieving father, Tom Woltkamp, just hours after his son took his life Wednesday morning by plunging over the Westgate Bridge into the 2-foot water of the Kansas River.
Signs that something was amiss came a few days ago when Anthony M. Woltkamp, 31, of Topeka, returned from a 2,000-mile trip and was feeling ill.
He told his family he had quit taking his medication, lithium, which was prescribed for treatment of bipolar disorder. At his family's urging, he began taking his medication again.
But it was too late.
Woltkamp was a paraplegic. He had been using a wheelchair ever since a failed suicide attempt off the Topeka Boulevard Bridge in August 2002. This time, he stopped his car in the northbound lanes of the Westgate Bridge, navigated his wheelchair to the side and ended his life.
Tom Woltkamp reached out to the media just hours afterward. His message was to the point.
"Do whatever you can for yourself or a loved one who suffers from this affliction to help them," Woltkamp said. "And keep them on their medication because it saves their lives."
Anthony Woltkamp had a bright future ahead of him. As a seventh-grader at Assumption Grade School, he was one of the state's premier young gymnasts and had qualified for the United States Gymnastics Federation's National Junior Olympic Championships at Cal State-Fullerton.
He began as a recreational gymnast when he was 8 and advanced quickly.
Woltkamp, who attended Hayden High School, began training for the Olympics in the late 1990s, Tom Woltkamp said. In 1999, Anthony Woltkamp broke both of his wrists. He began the healing process and was cleared to begin training again. Within a few days, he broke both wrists again.
His dream was shattered.
Anthony Woltkamp was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002, his father said. In August of that year, he was critically injured when he dove off the Topeka Boulevard Bridge, landing about 40 feet below on asphalt.
The suicide attempt left him without the use of his legs, requiring him to use a wheelchair.
"He adapted," Tom Woltkamp said.
Anthony Woltkamp graduated from The University of Kansas School of Pharmacy in May 2008. In June 2008, he accepted a job at St. Francis Health Center, where he was a pharmacist. He purchased a home near the Potwin area in May 2009 and settled into his life.
Off his medication
Tom Woltkamp said his son's family began noticing a difference in Anthony a few days after he returned from his road trip.
The family encouraged him to get back on his medication. He listened, but his father said he thought it wasn't soon enough.
"I'm doing this because it may enable someone else to save a person," Woltkamp said. "We have a tendency to sweep it under the carpet."
But don't, he said.
Lt. Tom Glor, a police department spokesman, said an officer responded to a call about a man in a wheelchair with a possible flat tire. The officer saw Woltkamp parked on the side of the Westgate Bridge at 10:17 a.m. The officer approached Woltkamp, who told him he thought he had a flat tire but didn't. The officer then watched Woltkamp drive away.
Ten minutes later, a person with the Kansas Department of Transportation called 911 to report that one of its workers saw Woltkamp fall from the bridge.
"We have a witness who saw what happened," Glor said.
Kimberly Qualls, public affairs manager for KDOT, said at least two accidents happened near the S.W. Gage Boulevard interchange during the same time. KDOT workers were sweeping a westbound lane of I-70 when a car ran into an arrow board that was placed to warn motorists to merge right.
"Another wreck occurred because of that wreck," Qualls said.
At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, all lanes of northbound US-75 highway over the Westgate Bridge, as well as the eastbound and westbound I-70 entrance ramps to northbound US-75, were reopened, Qualls said.
A family left behind
Tom Woltkamp headed to the Shawnee County Coroner's Office shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday. His eyes were red from grief, but he wanted to take the time to tell others about his son.
"He was a very good kid," he said as he smiled down at his son's photograph.
In the photograph, Anthony Woltkamp was smiling, too. The photograph was taken while he was pursuing an acting career in California.
"He had a family who loves him and misses him," Tom said. "He will be missed."