by Robert A. Waters
A teenaged girl stood on the bridge looking down into one hundred and twenty feet of darkness. A few cars may have whizzed by, slapping their brakes at the sight of the pretty teen standing on the edge of death. Three days before, she’d fled her foster home in Gainesville, Florida. Where she spent those 72 hours, nobody knows—or more likely, nobody’s talking. But in the early morning hours of May 15, she plummeted off that bridge into the unrelenting night.
The Bert Dosh Memorial Bridge on State Road 40 east of Silver Springs is an expensive artifact from a failed scheme. Beginning in the late 1880s and up through the 1970s, many businessmen in the state envisioned a watery passageway that would cross Florida and connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. They planned to accomplish their dream by building a series of canals to link the state’s many lakes and rivers. It was to be called the Cross Florida Barge Canal.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, local, state, and Federal governments spent about a million dollars to build the oversized bridge across the miniscule Ocklawaha River. Approximately 74 million dollars was spent on the entire canal project, but the bridge was to be the last dying gasp of the Cross Florida Barge Canal when growing environmental concerns spelled the end of the plan.
Spanning over 2,700 feet in length and about 120 feet high, the structure looks much older than its actual age. Faded concrete railings, about waist-high, leave little room for walkers or bicyclists.
The girl lay sprawled on the ground beneath the bridge when a visitor to the nearby Ray Wayside Park discovered her. Wearing a black top, multicolored skirt, and black shoes, the only jewelry she wore was a necklace with a heart-shaped charm. Her hair had been dyed red, but investigators determined that its original color was brown. The dead girl carried no identification.
So who was this lost child?
Investigators eventually identified her as sixteen-year-old Ann Ella Sagul. Yet little real information surfaced. Acquaintances recounted the story of a girl who became a ward of the state when she was an infant. She allegedly spent the rest of her life in foster homes, moving from one to another. Little is known about her, but a Facebook page she may have created implies that she was unhappy about moving so much.
Her real story continues to elude us.
Did Ann Ella Sagul jump from that bridge, hoping to escape an unhappy life? Or did she accidently fall over the edge. (If an automobile veered too close, she could have panicked and, while attempting to climb onto the railing, plunged into eternity.)
Or was she murdered?
Like the murky, ink-black Ocklawaha River that flows beneath that monstrous bridge, will Ann Ella Sagul’s life and death remain a mystery?